Daryl McMahon believes the league champions are coming to town on Saturday but he’s determined the Fleet will have their say in the title race, with matches against first and second to come at the Kuflink Stadium.
The visitors could go 12 points clear at the top before nearest rivals Sutton United even kick off on Saturday were they to beat the Fleet in front of the BT Sport cameras and McMahon thinks John Askey’s men have probably got the title sewn up regardless.
“I think they’ll fancy themselves to win the title with their points lead and the run-in they’ve got,” the Fleet boss said. “John Askey’s done a brilliant job. I think they’ve got a really good side there with experience and they play good football. With Aldershot, they’re probably one of the best footballing sides for me. Danny Whitaker in midfield may be getting on in years but he’s an outstanding footballer. [Elliott] Durrell, the right winger, has probably been player of the year and performs every time I’ve seen him play. One of my old [Port Vale] teammates George Pilkington is another well into his thirties but he’s experienced. They’re a good side and it’s no fluke they’re in a position to take the title.”
But for all that praise, McMahon is convinced his side can match the leaders such is the confidence in the camp after the recent run of form. Fleet top the six-game form table, while Macclesfield are out in front across the last 10 games, and it’s no wonder BT Sport cherry-picked this one for live coverage.
“We’re on a fantastic run and our home form has been pretty good against everybody above us so if we continue to do what we’ve been doing, especially these past seven games or so, then we won’t make it easy for Macclesfield,” McMahon vowed.
“We weren’t far off the pace against Macclesfield in the away game,” he continued. “They finished ninth last season, where we are now, and have pushed on this season. The margins aren’t massive and if we’d had Darren McQueen’s goals or been able to play Jack Payne, Kenny Clark, Dave Winfield and now Sam Magri throughout the season, who knows how much closer to Macclesfield we might be. But that’s the way it is and we are still in the hunt with an opportunity to get in and around the higher positions so I’m not going to complain about it, I’m proud of what we’ve managed to do.”
What Fleet now have to do is play three very tough home games and come through four lengthy away trips – seven more games inside 21 days. And McMahon will have to do it with only 17 fit players after Jack Payne’s (pictured above) comeback was curtailed by another injury.
“Payney’s not going to be back this season, so we have the 17 players for the run-in,” the manager reported. “We’ve got a hell of a lot of travelling to do. We’ve set ourselves a challenge and we’ll try and win as many of those as we can. It’s our duty to ourselves but also to other teams fighting for promotion or relegation.”
Macclesfield don’t only top the league, they’re also leading the fair-play table this season and Fleet are just behind them in fourth place. Two disciplined sides may be at odds with match referee Paul Marsden who has issued 69 yellow cards and seven reds in 18 games this season but McMahon is pleased with his side’s record in that regard this season and can do without losing anyone to a suspension in this final month.
The league leaders have a few potential injury issues with star midfield man Durrell having sat out recent games with a groin injury and there’s a question mark over his return this weekend. Saturday’s match winner Danny Whitehead limped off with a hamstring problem five minutes after scoring against Chester, while Ryan Lloyd has had treatment on an achilles complaint.
The Silkmen include former Fleet striker Tyrone Marsh in their squad and former Weston-super-Mare frontman Scott Wilson who has 12 goals this season. He’s had to settle for a place behind recent loan signing from Plymouth Nathan Blissett and the 6ft 5in target man will be a handful for the Fleet defence. Macclesfield are also likely to field two players who played their football with Kidderminster last season and who played in the 3-0 defeat of the Fleet in the FA Trophy in 2016/17.
The visitors have only lost once on the road in recent weeks, that also coming in Kent when they were beaten 2-0 by Dover. They were also on the wrong side of an amazing 6-0 hiding at AFC Fylde and recent wins have been by the odd goal, against Chester, Woking and Gateshead. It all adds up to an intriguing 90 minutes on the TV with play-off places and league titles at stake.
The match kicks off at the rescheduled time of 12.15. Segregation is in place and there will be a portable bar on hand for visiting fans. Car-parking is available for £3 at Ebbsfleet International Car Park C, which opens at 10.15am.