It’s that time again: the month begins with ‘A’ and Fleet sit one place behind Maidenhead in the league table as National League South’s two best teams of 2016/17 go head to head at York Road, this time a division higher, in 2017/18.
The fanfare surrounding this game will be slightly more muted after April’s title showdown lured 3,377 people to Maidenhead’s ground, the Magpies then needing only the point that Fleet refused to give them to be crowned league champions – though it only delayed the inevitable, of course, with Alan Devonshire’s side sealing that at Margate a week later.
Both clubs have since shown they can live with their peers in the National League and sit 7th and 8th in the table after four games each. Maidenhead drew at Maidstone on the opening day courtesy of a late equaliser and then, having gone all season until the Fleet game without a home defeat, saw another follow when Wrexham won at York Road.
But their last two games have propelled the Magpies up the table, with impressive victories over Hartlepool United and Dave Tarpey’s four-goal haul in a 4-1 win at AFC Fylde showing that he’s lost none of last season’s magic. Predictably, he sits atop the goalscoring charts already, with seven strikes in total.
Devonshire hasn’t tinkered too much with his squad, with Tarpey and Sean Marks still likely to lead the line and Harry Pritchard creating the supply line from the wide positions. Of his new signings, former Hampton midfielder Harold Odametey has started all four games in the National League while the others (Jake Goodman and Jake Hyde) have notched a couple of appearances each. Academy full-back Max Kilman has also forced his way into the side this season but otherwise, the 11 facing the Fleet on Saturday will be largely familiar to Daryl McMahon and his players.
Fleet look set to travel to Berkshire without any new defensive cover and it would be little surprise to see Sam Magri and Yado Mambo pair up once more following skipper Dave Winfield’s long-term injury and Kenny Clark’s hamstring issue. McMahon will be determined to shore up that back line, having had to watch his side show bags of determination and spirit to twice come back from two-goal deficits inside a week.
Jack Powell will be eyeing a starting place after coming off the bench to score at Dagenham but in such an away game and in such circumstances, Fleet’s first concern might be protecting their defence. The obvious choice there is Dean Rance but with the midfielder having yet to feature after his pre-season injury, it will very much depend on the call from the physio room.
Admission at York Road is £15 (adults), £10 (concessions) and £5 for U16s. Advance tickets are on sale as of Friday from here.
The Craufurd Arms in Maidenhead has emailed the club to welcome Fleet fans, saying: “We are Maidenhead’s first community-owned pub and we are situated a 10-minute walk from Maidenhead’s ground, just north of the town centre on Gringer Hill. We welcome all football fans and cater for their needs with matches shown on Sky and BT Sports. Having just been promoted to the National League we were delighted to have supporters from Wrexham drop in for a drink before our first home game of the season.”