Ebbsfleet United’s first away cup tie of the season is all that stands between the club and an appearance in the First Round proper of the Emirates FA Cup for the first time since 2012.
But a determined Merstham are intent on blocking that path and manager Daryl McMahon is looking no further ahead than Saturday’s 3.00pm kick-off. Having overcome two of the leading lights in the Ryman Premier Division en route to this round, McMahon is aware that while Merstham sit lower down the table than either AFC Sudbury or Havant & Waterlooville, their home advantage sets this Fourth Qualifying Round tie up for a classic upsetting of the odds.
Fleet have scored 12 goals without reply in their two Emirates FA Cup games so far this season but Merstham manager Hayden Bird has said his team “will respect Ebbsfleet, but not fear them”.
McMahon’s side maintained their winning run and notched another clean sheet with a 2-0 win at Weston-super-Mare last Saturday to serve as ideal preparation for another road trip this weekend and the squad is firing on all cylinders, with Darren McQueen’s goal tally having now reached eight for the season. Sean Shields continues to be monitored for a hip injury and with him doubtful, it would be little surprise to see Fleet go with an unchanged lineup once again.
Merstham, lying 17th in the Ryman Premier, had a midweek league game where they succumbed 2-0 at Bognor Regis and are without a league win in three matches. That said, they ended last month in formidable style, scoring five goals in three successive games – against Harrow Borough, Tonbridge Angels and in the FA Cup versus Thamesmead Town.
Many of those goals are coming from their danger man in midfield, Dan Bennett, the former Farnborough man having scored seven so far this season. There are a couple of familiar faces in ex-Fleet players Calum Willock and Lanre Azeez who are named in the Moatsiders’ squad, Willock having scored in an earlier round of this competition.
And defender Tutu Henriques, meanwhile, has previous form at this stage against the Fleet when he starred for then-lower-league Bromley in 2009 as they knocked us out of the cup that season. Henriques is one of Merstham’s most experienced players and has warmed up for this match with two goals in the previous round against Thamesmead.
There’s experience elsewhere in the form of Dean McDonald who played 30 games for Gillingham a decade ago and was also a teammate of Daryl McMahon’s and Bradley Bubb’s at Farnborough in the season they lost to the Fleet in the play-off final.
Manager Bird – who had a scout at Weston to watch the Fleet – was bullish ahead of the game, telling BBC Surrey: “The message to Ebbsfleet is that we’ll be ready. We know they’re going to be really strong opponents but I believe that the team will be tactically ready. I can’t guarantee that we’re going to win but I can guarantee that Ebbsfleet are going to be involved in a fight.”
The game is another milestone for Merstham who last season finished in their highest position ever in the football pyramid and tomorrow will play at the Fourth Qualifying Round stage for the first time – with the even greater rewards of £12,500 and a place in the First Round potentially ahead of them.
Admission to the Moatside is £12 (adults), £6 concessions and £1 for U16s. The club have advised that stewards will be on hand to direct drivers to car-parking spaces (cars should park at the doctor’s surgery and library in Weldon Way as indicated on the map below or click here). Any replay will take place on Tuesday, October 18th.