In a season of many firsts, Fleet make their first trip to Victoria Park as troubled Hartlepool United play hosts in a period of some long-distance trips for Ebbsfleet fans. The circumstances, however, won’t be new to the Fleet – once again Daryl McMahon’s side face a club that has recently sacked its manager and placed a caretaker in charge so if the opposition are suitably rejuvenated in front of a potential new boss it’s another hurdle to overcome for the visitors.
None of which will faze MacMahon who is just getting on with the job in hand as far as his team is concerned. While playing down his side’s revival in recent weeks, just as he refuses to panic when fortunes sway the other way, the closing of the play-offs gap to two points will surely be enticement enough to push for a fourth successive win.
But the Fleet boss has previously suggested that Pools are in a false position and while their off-field problems are well publicised, the likelihood of a new manager coming in and their perilous position in the league table might concentrate minds and kick-start the form they are very much due.
They will certainly be no mugs at home in front of upwards of 3,000 people, having raced into a 3-0 lead against Fleet’s midweek opponents Woking last weekend.
“I watched footage of them play Woking and that first half an hour was very similar to our game at Halifax, in the sense Hartlepool really went for Woking, they made it difficult, they got balls forward, they got players into the box, the crowd were up for it and I think it will be no different Saturday when we come to town,” said McMahon.
Fleet have come away largely empty-handed in front of big, partisan crowds this season, with defeats at Wrexham and Tranmere, but the travelling faithful will be hoping for better at this next ex-Football League venue. Sean Shields’ return to the fray as an 80th-minute substitute on Tuesday night was a welcome sight but the visitors will be sweating on the fitness of Lawrie Wilson who sat it out in midweek and Jack Payne, who limped off in the second-half against Woking.
In other team news, with the acquisition of Corey Whitely, Fleet striker Bradley Bubb has been released to join Wealdstone ahead of their FA Trophy quarter-final.
Hartlepool have lost a few players to Wrexham since last we met, with winger Jonathan Franks and former Dover midfielder Nicky Deverdics heading out the door, while a couple of injuries have also hit the squad. The experienced Ryan Donaldson and Aaron Cunningham are both on the sidelines with ankle injuries and Kenton Richardson and Michael Ledger seem set to sit this one out, too. Defender Liam Donnelly has missed three matches but could return dependent on a late fitness test.
In the absence of those players, Michael Woods remains Pools’ chief danger with eight league goals this season from midfield and a misfiring forward line will need to step up to the plate, with Hartlepool now just three points clear of resurgent Solihull Moors. Assistant manager Matthew Bates and youth coach Paul Jenkins will take charge of the side this weekend hoping to end a run of one win (last weekend over Woking) in 13 games but the optimism of that victory over the Cards was dashed in midweek when Pools lost a potential relegation six-pointer at Halifax.
Our meeting earlier in the season arrived during another Fleet spell of good form, with goals from Myles Weston, Danny Kedwell and Luke Coulson giving us a 3-0 win at the Kuflink Stadium. It was that match which kicked off Hartlepool’s unenviable series of winless runs until their game against Woking last weekend.