“Concentrating on the league” is the buzzphrase around Stonebridge Road following the Fleet’s exit from the FA Trophy at the weekend, but a run in the Kent Reliance Senior Cup is unlikely to impact the promotion pursuit as, should Daryl McMahon’s side successfully negotiate tonight’s game against Phoenix Sports, they would have just the semi-final to interrupt an unbroken run of league fixtures to the end of the season.
Fleet, chasing their ninth post-war success in the county competition, gave an excellent account of themselves in the 6-2 win at the Gallagher Stadium and McMahon is likely to field many of those players again tonight, with Charlie Sheringham and Alex Osborn having opened their season’s account for the club in that win. A number of Academy players, who were unavailable due to the FA Youth Cup tie at AFC Wimbledon, could also feature – with Joe Denny as keen as any of them having scored his first senior goal at Maidstone.
Phoenix Sports are entering the competition for the first time this season and they saw off higher-division opposition by beating VCD Athletic on penalties in the last round. Having also beaten Lewes in the FA Cup and held Ryman Premier leaders Tonbridge to a draw in the FA Trophy, they certainly have a measure of cup form and will be hoping to turn on the style at Stonebridge Road tonight.
Much like Concord and Whitehawk at our own level, Phoenix have enjoyed a meteoric rise of late. Runners-up and then champions of the Kent Invicta League, last season they romped home to the Southern Counties East title, losing just one game in 38 and maintaining 30 clean sheets. Their first season at Ryman Division One North level sees them in respectable mid-table and in with a shout of the play-offs.
They have a couple of recognisable former Fleet faces in midfielder Giannoulis Fakinos, a member of our 2010/11 promotion-winning team, alongside defender Steve Springett who graduated to the first team from the same youth side as Michael West in 2008/09. Elsewhere, they have a couple of players who went to Wembley with Tunbridge Wells in the 2013 FA Vase Final as well as Chelsea and Manchester City academy graduates.
Admission tonight is £5 adults and £3 concessions, with U12s free with a paying adult. Given print-run minimums, there is no programme, but a four-page squad focus, team list and preview is available for 50p.