Former Fleet favourite Neil Barrett returns to Stonebridge Road with Basingstoke Town this weekend as two in-form sides go head-to-head in a mouth-watering clash that is sure to offer value for money for fans taking advantage of the £5 admission fee.
The Dragons top the form table in Skrill South over the last four games and lie four points ahead of the Fleet in fourth place.
And somewhat early in the season, Saturday’s clash will see the Fleet and Basingstoke fulfil their league commitments to one another, the two sides having already met in a 2-2 at Camrose back in September. Manager Steve Brown had mixed feelings about that one, having seen his side largely dominate and take an early lead through Dean Rance. But things turned sour when the home side went 2-1 up in the second half courtesy of Barrett against his former club, until a late, late Shane Huke equaliser yielded the Fleet a point.
Huke, of course, is missing with a long-term foot injury but Fleet have clearly turned a corner since that game when they struggled to turn possession into goals – and indeed that whole period was a slightly wobbly one for Brown’s men who lost their next game at home to Chelmsford.
Since that, however, only Bishop’s Stortford have managed to get one over the Fleet and a convincing win over Bromley last Saturday, coupled with another victory midweek against Tunbridge Wells, have kept the momentum going.
Anthony Cook has recovered from a midweek bout of illness and with an otherwise full squad to choose from (though Andy Pugh’s loan has effectively ended given his injury situation), Brown’s selection dilemma will doubtless focus on his front line. Michael Thalassitis has forced himself back into the reckoning and scored twice in his last two outings, while Billy Bricknell created one and scored one against Tunbridge Wells, to add to his late goal against Bromley last week.
Brown admitted after the Bromley game that Bricknell was unfortunate to find himself on the bench and praised the striker’s work rate and focus after his late goal on Saturday, but he will be reluctant to change a side that took its chances so well against one of the league’s leading lights last weekend.
Bricknell and Thalassitis led the line the last time these two sides met, but Ben May will likely present the visiting defence with a whole different proposition – though it certainly won’t be an easy task for the Fleet forward players against a back four that has conceded only once in the last five games. The strikers might be given a helping hand, however, by the unlikely figure of Aiden Palmer who is looking to score in his fourth consecutive game – not a bad ambition for a left-back!
The visitors are looking to pull up a few trees of their own – and a win at Stonebridge Road would be the first time they have won six consecutive games in all competitions (or five league matches in a row) since 2002. Like the Fleet, their campaign stuttered around the time we last met and after that 2-2 draw in September, Basingstoke lost their next three Skrill South games, including a 4-1 reverse at Havant.
Since that result, however, they have hit a rich vein of form, winning four league games and an FA Trophy tie. Manager Jason Bristow – formerly a Basingstoke player for 10 years – has crafted a decent squad in the close season and his sights are set clearly on promotion.
Players such as Kezie Ibe and Barrett need little introduction to Fleet fans. Barrett has tended to share midfield duties with Matt Partridge this season and the latter’s more defensive nature could see him get the nod ahead of Barrett if Basingstoke are looking to keep the midfield tight. That said, Barrett’s rich scoring form this season – he has four, making him second in the Basingstoke scoring charts – might be enough if the Dragons’ recent good run has made them ambitious enough to go all-out for the three points at Stonebridge Road.
The visitors’ only injury doubt is defender Adam Green – and the former Dartford player will be a big loss if he does succumb to a calf problem. The left back previously played for Fulham in the Premier League and once had to withstand an onslaught from strikers of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Green also won promotion from this division with Dartford and played for them in last season’s Conference Premier and he has helped shore up the Town defence since his arrival in the summer.
Manny Williams is the club’s top scorer with five this season and he has already tasted success against the Fleet defence, scoring his side’s opening goal in September. The former Maidenhead, Woking and Havant striker has consistently found the net at this level and he will share striking duties with either former Fleet forward Kezie Ibe or Robbie Matthews. The latter has plenty of experience at a higher level with Kidderminster, Forest Green, Salisbury and Newport – and with it plenty of previous encounters with the Fleet. Ryan Debattista is another option for manager Bristow, recently signed from Barnet, though he has found starts limited since his arrival.
The Dragons’ midfield is driven by Wes Daly, another former Fleet face (though a very brief one, having played a game on loan from Queens Park Rangers). Daly is in his third season with Basingstoke but previously played at the heart of the Bromley and AFC Wimbledon midfields.
Fleet v Basingstoke head to head
|Venue||Matches||W||D||L||Goals||+ / –|
|Home||10||6||2||2||13 – 6||+7|
|Away||11||3||3||5||14 – 19||-5|
Recent form (Skrill South)
Fleet: D W W W L W
Basingstoke: L L W W W W