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It’s just the start, says ecstatic Watson

Kevin Watson saw his Fleet side book their place in the First Round of the Emirates FA Cup and then challenged them to follow up only their third victory and second clean sheet of the season with more of the same.

Fleet have yet to acquire back-to-back wins this season but have arguably looked more like doing so in recent games than at any other point in 2019/20.

“I just say to the players, it’s the start,” Watson told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster. “Whoever is here, whether it’s me or whether the powers that be decide they want to go in a different direction, all I can do is my best.

“Everyone can see that these boys are doing their best for me and they have done in the three games since I took over. I’m proud to a man of each and every one of them including the boys who didn’t play, the subs, the injured lads, the staff. We’ve got a good group of people. The aim now is to go to Sutton and get a result on Saturday.  It’s a big win [tonight] for the club but only if we follow it up.”

Watson was effusive in his praise for his battling Cup victors and he got the 90-minute performance he was craving.

“You’re never going to Woking, a team who are doing alright in the league by the way, and dominate the goal for the whole 90 minutes,” he said. “But second-half when they started leaving holes, I just said to them you need to take more care with the ball when they’re throwing bodies forward. We had endless counterattacks where again, being picky, we should have done better.

“I’ve said in the six halves of football since I’ve taken over I think there’s been probably one iffy half of football and that was on Saturday. It wasn’t pretty tonight, you know what you’re going to get from Woking. They’re a good side, they’ve been good at home and we knew we’d have to weather a bit of a storm. Everyone got nervy towards the end because we haven’t won for a while but I think you can count on one hand the amount of shots they had at our goal. But you’re always wondering are we going to get over the line. It’s a fantastic feeling.”

And having questioned his side’s fitness on Saturday, Fleet’s interim manager can’t have helped but notice the energy his players showed, still counterattacking at speed late in the game.

“In the league we’re on 10 points and there is no immediate fix. I’ve explained the fitness position but that takes times, but I tell you they looked fit enough tonight the way they tore round. If we can get fitter, because we need to be the way I’d like us to play with the ball, then we have good players.”

And not only good players, but team players. Watson made sure to emphasise the togetherness he sees throughout his squad.

“I’ve got three boys injured in the dugout with us, everyone’s travelled,” he said. “Cody McDonald is bringing kit in his van, it’s a real team effort and they’ve deserved it. I’ve had individual chats, I’ve said I can’t play 18 of you at once. The boys who haven’t played, they need to be ready to play because it won’t be me who comes down on you when you get your chance in the team.

“If you’re not fit and you’re not ready to go, it will be your teammates. I don’t think I’ve got one bad apple in that dressing room. As you could see, everyone was celebrating with the crowd that we have here tonight.”

And the players followed the gameplan exactly as the management staff had instructed them to do.

“They carried out what we asked them to the absolute letter,” said Watson. “There were a couple of lapses in concentration and early on I thought we took liberties again at times and became their best player by putting them in dangerous positions.

“But we had a different way about us tonight. We’ve been playing all the nice football, passing through the thirds and tonight there was an edge to us where we won tackles, won headers. If we had to return the ball when we were under pressure, we returned it… which isn’t the wrong way of playing, it just relieves pressure. 

“Tyler Cordner, after I had a little go at him on Saturday at half-time for taking liberties, I thought second-half tonight he was terrific. He headed it when he needed to, got on his left foot, put balls down the line for Reidy and Josh and all of a sudden we’re 40 yards further up the pitch. And then when we could play, we did play.

“I’m ecstatic. To be so close on Saturday and they’re probably rightfully favourites, I thought our attitude and application was fantastic tonight, the work ethic, the boys to a man worked their socks off.”

Now Watson has his first real selection dilemma ahead of Saturday, with Albie Morgan back in contention, a waiting game to be played on a couple of injuries and the uneviable task of selecting an 11 from a squad that has performed manfully for five of the last six halves of football.

“If they don’t play well, they come out of the team, so the boys have the shirts,” Watson said. “Obviously we’ve got Albie to come back on Saturday who is a miss for us the way he played in that first game. Payney is touch and go, could be fit, Lawrie Wilson the same.

“But after a display like that it will be extremely difficult to leave anybody out. However, it is horses for courses and we’ll see how they recover Thursday. The biggest thing for me is a clean sheet, they defended for their lives and threw their bodies on the line.”

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