Ebbsfleet will seek to get back to winning ways this Saturday at the end of a tough week that has seen back-to-back defeats at Gosport and Chelmsford.
And having faced probably the best side to date in the Clarets, this weekend’s visitors Wealdstone will be another tough nut to crack. With a good recent record at Stonebridge Road anyway (our 2014/15 clash is pictured above), the Stones team expected tomorrow has shifted up a gear from the previous squads which have taken a 0-0 draw and a 3-2 victory over the past two seasons.
Fleet are still nursing a few knocks but injured players have been back in training. “I think anyone who saw Danny Kedwell at Gosport could see he wasn’t right so he’s had further treatment this week and a little bit of training,” Daryl McMahon told FleetOnline. “He feels a lot better and the swelling on his ankle has come down. Mark Phillips trained on Tuesday but he’s suffered whiplash from the car crash and his neck’s still giving him trouble and Stuart Lewis’s injury is being monitored. Those players are all there or thereabouts but it’s a day-by-day process.”
McMahon faces loses Dave Winfield for a three-match suspension beginning from next week – the Fleet boss is adamant the red card at Chelmsford was harsh but doubts the likelihood of an appeal being worth it. “We’ve discussed it but at this level, how many appeals make it through? You saw last season, even when you have footage as we did with Tom Bonner against Hayes & Yeading, they’re not interested. You get one camera angle and it doesn’t carry much weight.
“That sending off killed us as I thought after equalising, that we’d score again. We were stepping up a gear in the second half and creating chances after they’d put us under pressure in the first half. I spoke to Billy Bricknell after the game and he only felt the slightest of contacts, Dave’s hardly touched him really.”
But it’s Wealdstone that McMahon is focussing on now and despite the last two results, he is confident his squad will pull together and pull through. “It’s a long, long season and there’s plenty of time to put things right. And with the group I’ve got here, I’m really confident that we will. Personally, it’s been the hardest couple of games of my time here as a manager and I’m not peddling hard-luck stories but I thought we finally had close to our best team out against Margate and then Mark Phillips is involved in a car crash. At Chelmsford we get a pretty dubious sending-off just as we’re getting on top in that game. These are key things across a season but it’s about overcoming them, not dwelling on them.”
Wealdstone arrive with a new-found optimism, greater financial backing and a wealth of summer signings that have invigorated manager Gordon Bartlett’s squad. Whereas before the Stones have made ponderous starts to each season and improved to settle in mid-table, this time around they are entering a campaign with all guns firing. Currently in sixth place, with the third highest goalscoring record helped in no small measure by the seven goals of new recruit Elliot Benyon, the NW London side are likely to prove the stiffest test yet at Stonebridge Road this season.
Other new blood includes midfielders Danny Green and David Hunt from Margate, former AFC Wimbledon promotion winner Ricky Wellard, as well as Matt Whichelow who gained honours from this division with Boreham Wood. Another ex-Wood signing is midfielder Sam Cox who arrived only last week, while former Gambian international striker Omar Koroma is likely to partner Benyon in attack.
Skipper Wes Parker could return in defence as the Stones look to build on a gritty 1-0 over Weston in midweek, to add to victories over Bishop’s Stortford, Oxford City and Margate. And Wealdstone would have another one on that list had Poole Town not popped up with a 90th-minute equaliser last Saturday.
Attendances are up at Grosvenor Vale this season and the traditionally sizeable travelling support enjoyed by the Stones will make for a noisy Stonebridge Road (once they find somewhere to perch themselves in the absence of the Liam Daish Stand); Ebbsfleet, whose players were bristling with indignation after “noisy opposition changing rooms” over the past two games, will not want a third set of celebrations ringing in their ears and the revival starts here is the message from the camp.