Fleet return to league action via uncharted waters as they head to Vauxhall Road for a first-ever clash against Hemel Hempstead Town, with the newly-promoted Tudors still finding their feet in the Vanarama Conference South.
But if the Hertfordshire side have still to find their feet, the Fleet will need to rediscover their shooting boots after two games where, had they seized all the chances they created, they would be nearer to leaders Basingstoke in the league and probably have dumped them out of the FA Cup, too.
Fleet boss Steve Brown is not keen to dwell on those points, however, and has impressed on his players in training to put to one side their cup disappointment and harness their recent impressive league form towards a climb further up the table.
“The focus now is getting back on the training ground and working on a way to beat Hemel Hempstead,” he said, “because the best way you can get over this is to win the next league game and all the focus across the week is making sure we’re 100% certain about the way to go around getting three points on Saturday.
“I’ll explain to the players what we have been doing and done very, very well. The performance for 70 minutes against Basingstoke was very, very good and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
Kenny Clark is likely in position for a recall to the line-up after he spent the 90 minutes against Basingstoke on the bench, while Brown will need to decide whether to freshen things up anywhere else in the side. Joe Howe’s suspension for his red card last week will not kick in immediately, so whether Brown will be tempted to give Chris Sessegnon a run-out ahead of that – as he did with Brandon Hall while Preston Edwards was awaiting a then-suspension – is open to debate.
Alex Osborn was due back in training this week and if he makes the bench, it will at least give Brown another attacking option after two matches where he restricted himself to one playing substitute given a lack of forward options.
Hemel Hempstead Town have big ambitions, with a new stand build announced plus recent four-year contracts handed to their management team. However, life at this level has tempered their upward surge somewhat and the Tudors are still awaiting their first league win at home, lying third from bottom in the table.
But they’re certainly not a side to be under-estimated. Two of their three away wins this season have come at Eastbourne and Basingstoke – Fleet’s last two opponents. And while home league form has seen a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Boreham Wood earlier in the season, and defeat against Whitehawk and Concord Rangers, the Tudors haven’t lost on their own ground since August.
Recent morale-boosting wins have included a 5-0 win at Chippenham in the FA Cup while a 14-0 mauling of Chipperfield Corinthians certainly won’t have done the confidence any harm, even if it was a minor cup competition. Manager Dean Brennan talked up the Fleet ahead of the game, saying “They’re the favourites to win this league, they have a very good and experienced squad but if we’re on our top game then we can be difficult too. I’m hoping that we perform to a good level. Reflecting on the league table after 10 games, it’s not looking healthy for us and we must start picking up points and as soon as possible.
“Our fans were fantastic at Chippenham last week, our 12th man yet again; we need this to be the same and create a great atmosphere as Ebbsfleet have got a good following.”
Regularly pulling in crowds of 500-600, the Tudors have a solid fanbase and a team that is beginning to shake off some of its poor early-season form. Fleet fans will be familiar with our two former QPR loan players, midfielder Wes Daly (ex-Bromley and Basingstoke) and striker Dennis Oli, who also played for Gillingham and Havant & Waterlooville, though he has yet to find the net this season.
Top scorer is defender/midfielder and skipper Jordan Parkes, recently handed a two-year contract, with his striker colleagues thus far struggling to convert chances into goals. Last season’s main source for goals, Ben Mackey, has just gone on loan to Dunstable Town, while teenage striker Jamal McKenzie-Lowe has made the reverse journey and could face the Fleet on Saturday. This week has also seen the arrival of Adam Watkins, who played in the Conference with Luton and Kidderminster and who has England C caps to his name.