It’s riverside versus seaside this weekend as Fleet travel to Eastbourne before facing Margate at Stonebridge Road less than 48 hours later in a Bank Holiday weekend double-header.
And after three consecutive draws, two of those in front of a home crowd, Fleet boss Daryl McMahon is awaiting the response from his team that he demanded after a less-than-satisfactory second-half against Whitehawk.
McMahon was pleased to get his squad in for training without a midweek match interruption this past five sweltering days and it sees his squad in much better shape finally. Mark Phillips and Aaron McLean came through the full week of sessions. Stuart Lewis may be a doubt with a mild recurrence of his groin injury but McMahon doesn’t expect him to miss any more than one match while the club’s medical department are assessing Danny Kedwell’s ankle as a precaution ahead of the weekend.
“That’s more or less everyone fit now bar the few minor knocks here and there,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “Phillips and McLean got through a whole week and touch wood they’re in contention finally. Everyone else is fit and raring to go.
“I’m looking forward to having more competition for places now. Not to use the injuries as an excuse as we have good players who should be able to step in but to get through the loss of a large part of the squad early on, we’ve managed OK. We’ve not lost – and we could and should have won both our last home games – so I’m convinced we’ll be all right and I honestly believe we’ll get stronger.”
McMahon has acknowledged the need to kill games at one end while eradicating the sort of defending that allowed Hemel Hempstead to hit an instant equaliser on Saturday after Sean Shields’ late goal. Missed penalties haven’t helped that situation but the manager wasn’t dwelling on those too much.
“Of course we can’t afford to miss them, especially across successive games like that,” he said. “We don’t want it to happen again. Neither of those boys miss penalties very often, they’re excellent strikers of the ball and across the season both of them will get us goals. But they won’t be scared to take penalties again, both Danny and Charlie are the sort of players to stand up and be counted.”
Fleet visit Eastbourne in weather that will surely provide a sharp contrast to last season’s torrential downpour where McMahon’s men took the three points but were possibly fortunate that the referee allowed the match to proceed in an inclement second-half! There will be another sharp contrast to that match in that the soaked pitch is no more, Eastbourne having had a new 3G surface installed over the close season.
The Sports have had a mixed start to the season with three wins and two defeats but they have two strikers who will surely provide a handful for Fleet’s defence. Former Ebbsfleet loanee Nathaniel Pinney was last season’s club top scorer and this season his strike partner Elliott Romain has already hit six, to take him to second place in the league’s goalscoring charts.
That said, Romain – after scoring a hat-trick against Hemel Hempstead on the opening day – was left on the bench against Concord, allowing Eastbourne to bring in yet another proven goal-getter in the form of ex-Lincoln, Sutton and Margate frontman Jamie Taylor. Romain responded to his recall on Saturday at Hungerford by scoring a brace to give Eastbourne their first away win and condemn Hungerford to their first defeat.
Eastbourne landed experienced former Chelmsford skipper Mark Hughes in midfield along with Havant’s Brian Dutton over the summer and bolstered their ranks in recent weeks with the addition of Alex Smith, late of Fulham and Swindon Town. Josh Hare of Gillingham is another who has come in this summer, and Fleet fans might recall his father Darren who played for us in the Eighties. Those players are added to a squad that already contains familiar campaigners at this level including Craig Stone, Ian Simpemba, Gavin McCallum and goalkeeper Lewis Carey, who will be eager to get one over the Fleet after his shaky performance in last season’s corresponding fixture.
Eastbourne are also enjoying the first season on their new 3G surface and have won both games on it so far. The Sports will fancy their chances of getting a first ever win over the Fleet in such circumstances and McMahon will need all his players to step up to the mark at Priory Lane.