We all like a bit of familiarity at this time of the year and what could be more familiar to Fleet and Woking fans than each other?
The clubs meet for the fourth time in three months at the Kuflink Stadium in this last weekend before Christmas, with Woking no doubt determined to rid themselves of some unwelcome records.
Two draws and a defeat so far this season mean they haven’t overcome the Fleet in 2019/20 and they’ll also be targeting a first victory on our soil. Add to that the need to stop Alex Reid, who has scored in all three clashes this season, and ended his own goal drought with a 53rd-second opener at Enfield last Saturday.
“We’ve played them three times, I’ve been at the club for two of those games,” said Kevin Watson. “We were unfortunate not to win the first game in the FA Cup but obviously came out on top in the second game at their place.
“It will be a tough game – since we played them they were on a bit of a dodgy run, with some indifferent form, but they’ve come good again, they’re sitting fourth. We’re on an OK run ourselves so it doesn’t need me to emphasise how tough both teams can be. Every manager in every fixture in this league says it. We expect it of them and we will prepare no differently.”
Watson will hope to have Marvel Ekpiteta (pictured above) return for selection after he sat out the Enfield game with a back issue, but Alex Lawless remains sidelined and it may be a few days early for John Goddard to face his former club.
“Goddard’s very close,” said Watson. “Perhaps not quite ready for Saturday, we’ll see, which he’ll be disappointed with as it’s his old side. But he’s probably just short of being available. Alex Lawless is another three weeks, Aswad Thomas and Cody McDonald are a bit longer again. I’m still hopeful these boys can play a part in the season but it’s something that needs more time, they’ve been long-term injuries and it’s frustrating for them.”
Personnel is an issue foremost in the manager’s mind as he navigates his squad’s way through four games in 11 days, with loan players’ futures to be decided and the need to strengthen still on the agenda.
“We’ve got the four on loan and I just want to get December out of the way,” said Watson. “And then we’ll be speaking to those boys and their parent clubs to see where we’re at it with it. At the minute, we literally just need to get up to the New Year and get a lot of games out of the way and then before the Barrow game we’ll start sorting ourselves out with what we need for the New Year and going forward.”
And busy as this period proves to be, the manager still very much has his finger on the pulse of potential new recruitment.
“I’m hoping we can strengthen come January, it’s something we will be looking at, that’s no secret,” he said. “As soon as we are able to move, then I’ll certainly be there. It’s not as easy as it might appear on paper just to land players in. You’ve got to attract players when you’re in the league position we are and that doesn’t just sell itself.
“They’ve got to be the right type of player for the right position and the right character to make us better. There’s no point getting the same type of player in, it’s going to have to be better, so we’re always in the hunt but the deal has to be done, we have to convince players that we’re for them as well.”
As things stand going into Saturday, there’s little squad alteration to concern either manager with the two teams more than accustomed with one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Woking’s only new signing is a back-up goalkeeper, and key midfield man Glenn Rea, who helped spearhead much of their recent revival has returned to parent club Luton Town. So too has Toby Edser to Nottingham Forest, who played against us already this season, leaving Woking with a similarly sized squad to the Fleet.
Centre-back Moussa Diarra was injured in a recent county cup game so ex-Dartford midfielder Nathan Collier has deputised in there, but former Maidstone man Manny Parry could also slot in alongside Ben Gerring.
Manager Alan Dowson left top scorer Jake Hyde on the bench against the Fleet in the FA Cup but it’s unlikely he’ll play second fiddle this Saturday, with Jamar Loza and Dave Tarpey available in support.
Woking’s loss of form through the autumn hasn’t cost them much in terms of league placing, with the Cards still in fourth place – and a recent spell of wins has helped in that regard with Stockport, Maidenhead, Bromley and Hartlepool United all beaten.
Dowson will be seeking a response, however, after his first-team squad slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Isthmian League neighbours Kingstonian in the FA Trophy last weekend.
One man keen to make up for that defeat and the draw against the Fleet earlier in the season is skipper Josh Casey who probably won’t have enamoured himself to home fans, telling SurreyLive, “We owe [Ebbsfleet] one. We should have had three points in the league game and they beat us in the FA Cup. It’s not a nice place to go as we know the pitch isn’t good and there’s no atmosphere. It’s very quiet except our fans creating their own.
“They do have some good players but we know if we go there and play our best we can win.”
The match is not segregated and Woking fans may use the club bar by the turnstiles. Car-parking is available at Ebbsfleet International Station Car Park C for £3. This is the best option for parking near the stadium. Please respect local businesses by not blocking private property. Drivers are also warned that parking on the Thames Way clearway near the roundabout runs the risk of being ticketed.