As 2016/17 enters its penultimate month, Fleet sit atop the Vanarama National League South table by that most arbitrary of factors – the alphabet. When pundits talk of the business end of the season, this is where it begins and Daryl McMahon’s side will be eyeing the three points that the Rocks of East Thurrock United stand in the way of.
Naturally, the Fleet boss isn’t paying much attention to the league table and insists midweek results, which saw Dartford drop points but Chelmsford gain them, only served to underline that there are horses in this race other than ourselves and Maidenhead United. “Chelmsford will fancy they’re in with a chance,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “They play Maidenhead on Monday and can get the gap down to six points so there’s plenty to do and lots that can change between now and the end of the season.”
Hampton & Richmond Borough were the last team to score at Stonebridge Road in the league back in November and while East Thurrock are the draw specialists this season with 12, McMahon thinks they’ll come out to attack.
“From what I’ve watched of them, they’re quite open away from home,” he said. “Sam Higgins is a very good goalscorer, James Walker will nick goals and I like Tom Wraight on the left-hand side, a very good player with a good strike rate. Reece Harris is another attacking wide player so they have the quality to score goals and we’ll have to be alive to that defensively. But we know we can score goals too, we’re at home and it’s down to us.”
Fleet made their first change in five games last week, with Anthony Cook replacing Sean Shields, but a second will be enforced on the manager with Dean Rance (pictured) sitting out the first of a two-match suspension for 10 yellow cards. The midfielder has been involved in every league game this season so slotting in a replacement is new territory for McMahon in 2016/17.
“I know what I’m going to do in terms of replacing Dean,” McMahon said. “But obviously that’s between us and the teamsheet!”
East Thurrock arrive at Stonebridge Road off the back of a defeat at home to Poole Town, their third home match in succession. They sit 12th in the table having enjoyed a decent start with play-off hopes that have now faded somewhat. The Rocks have frustrated ourselves, Dartford, Maidenhead and Chelmsford this season with draws and recorded some impressive results including victory over Aldershot Town in the FA Trophy plus five- and six-goal wins over Truro City, Gosport Borough (twice) and Weston-super-Mare.
Midfielder Wraight, identified by McMahon as a threat, has scored 15 goals from his position behind the strikers and, although he was out earlier in the season with injury, Sam Higgins is another with an impressive scoring record, with more than 200 goals for the Rocks in three different spells at the club. He’s played against the Fleet at this level before, for Bromley and Concord Rangers. Manager John Coventry has also recently drafted in former Fleet target Scott Heard on loan from Dagenham & Redbridge. Heard was the lively midfielder who caught Steve Brown’s eye in our FA Trophy clash with Whitstable Town three years ago.
Kane Ferdinand, who scored the Rocks’ equaliser in our October meeting, has moved on to Woking, while Joe Ellul is now at Billericay. Defender Ryan Sammons is a long-term injury doubt with a broken collar bone but he is nearing fitness and could feature on the bench but the Rocks have brought in cover by signing the Ekpiteta twins (Marvin and Marvel) who were at Chelmsford last season.
• The club would like to remind fans that a minute’s applause will be held in memory of Paul McCarthy before kick-off. A 52-page programme, including tributes to Paul from Liam Daish, Ross Smith, Brian Kilcullen, Jason Botley and Roly Edwards, will also be on sale. Fans are encouraged to wear their 2008 FA Trophy Final shirts or any other shirt from Paul’s years at the club as well.