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Hythe and mighty: underdogs target upset

Fleet begin this season’s FA Cup campaign this weekend with a tie that – on paper – would appear to be the ‘easiest’ since 2011/12’s clash against Redbridge.

But we all know what happened there. Redbridge took the paper, tore it up with two late goals and sent Fleet tumbling out of the competition. Hythe, underdogs though they are, will have nothing to lose in a competition that has bred bigger shocks in its history than a side from Ryman Division One South overcoming a side from Conference South.

Steve Brown had no fewer than nine players on the treatment table in midweek, some having picked up knocks against Sutton, but he expects those who turned out last Saturday to be passed fit before the start of play on Saturday.

Alex Osborn and Michael Corcoran are likely to sit this one out through injury, while Tommy Fraser’s exit leaves Brown needing to prop up this weekend’s squad with youth players – given the seven substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, Leo Mazzone and Casey Johnson could be among those on standby. The Academy side won 4-0 at Folkestone last night and Brown will reiterate in his programme notes this weekend that he is not afraid to promote the youngsters into the first-team squad if he feels they are ready.

The main talking point has been the manager’s dilemma about which goalkeeper to select. Brandon Hall’s fine performance against Sutton came at a time when Brown anticipated a suspension for Preston Edwards – which has since been evaded courtesy of the club’s appeal to the FA. With both goalkeepers back in contention, it’s an interesting one for Brown to mull over and is a decision that ultimately neither goalkeeper will likely feel overjoyed with!

The opposition

Hythe travel to the PHB Stadium with history on their side – they have not lost to the Fleet in three attempts. Indeed their two previous visits to DA11 have resulted in 4-0 and 4-1 victories. And while they languish one up from the bottom of the Ryman Division One South, their cup form suggests a side that can put their league woes to one side.

They thrashed Whitstable 4-0 in the previous round, having signed three of the Oystermen squad that appeared against us in the FA Trophy last season. One of those, Jordan Wells, scored a last-gasp equaliser in midweek to earn Hythe a 2-2 draw against Walton Casuals. They also have target man Craig Thompson, who featured against us last December for Whitstable, and he has scored twice in the FA Cup already this season, both against Lordswood.

Look out for ex-Ashford top scorer Sam Conlon, too, who has four goals to his name, including a hat-trick against Whitstable. Conlon played in Hythe’s previous cup run four years ago, to the First Round proper, and returned to the club this summer. Experienced campaigners like John Walker, Laurence Harvey and Josh Burchell provide the team’s backbone – though they will be missing skipper and ex-Dover defender Craig Cloke through injury – while full back Lewis Mingle is a cup-run veteran having been to Wembley with Tunbridge Wells in the FA Vase.

Manager Tim Dixon, a Dover legend from their rise through the leagues in the late Eighties and early Nineties, took over at Reachfields in the summer, having previously held the managerial reins at Ramsgate. His predecessor Scott Porter, who guided Hythe to the Kent League and Kent Senior Cup titles, departed with a number of the Cannons’ squad after budget disagreements but Dixon persuaded a number of players to sign on again this season and has supplemented them with his own new faces.

Dixon’s previous FA Cup campaigns – with Ramsgate – both saw runs to the Third Qualifying Round and, while he publicly concedes to being the underdog by some distance this weekend, privately he must be impressing upon his players that if they can channel the traditional FA Cup pluck and spirit, they might just pull off a shock.

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