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Match preview: FA Cup’s top tie is nigh

Arguably the biggest FA Cup game this weekend, between the joint highest-ranked side in the competition and the team just four points behind them in the league, takes place at the PHB Stadium and it’s one that’s definitely too close to call.

Fleet go into the game having blasted 13 goals in three games prior to their midweek goalless stalemate at home to Eastbourne, while Basingstoke have soared to the league summit following wins over Whitehawk and Concord Rangers since the cup draw was made.

Steve Brown’s injury list is quickly improving but he will definitely be without the services of Lloyd Harrington and Alex Osborn. That will likely mean at least one place on the bench for an Academy player, given the FA Cup’s seven-subs allowance, and with Karn Miller-Neave’s eye in after his goal in the FA Youth Cup in midweek, he must be under consideration. Leo Mazzone limped out of that tie with an ankle injury so he is unlikely to be fit.

Dean Pooley, meanwhile, is cup-tied but otherwise Fleet have no fresh concerns. Brown’s temptation in previous cup ties, this and last season, has been to play one or two of his fringe players but given the threat posed by Basingstoke, he might be tempted to keep with the unbeaten line-up that has stood him in good stead in recent weeks. So Brandon Hall may still have the nod over Preston Edwards in that case, while Billy Bricknell and Charlie Sheringham will vie for the strikers’ positions with Matt Godden, a hat-trick hero from the previous cup round.

Fleet have never met Basingstoke in a cup tie before, and with 23 league meetings between the pair, history tells us there isn’t much to choose between them, with the Fleet only just ahead on wins. At the equivalent stage of the competition last season, Fleet dispatched fellow Conference South side Eastbourne 2-0, but given the chances they created but failed to put away against the same opposition in midweek, Brown will impress upon his men the absolute need to be more clinical against a confident Basingstoke.

The opposition

Fleet fans are all too aware of Basingstoke’s attacking options in Liam Enver-Marum and Louie Soares – the two players who featured in our 2012/13 campaign are capable of being match winners on their day and Enver-Marum has been in good form since signing for the Dragons in March this year, with five goals already this term.

Elsewhere, summer signing Chris Flood has eight goals in all competitions this season while the likes of experienced Manny Williams (who once scored 30 goals in 47 games for Havant) and Sam Argent from the bench can weigh in as well. Since our last meeting, a 1-0 defeat at the Soccer AM Stadium, Jason Bristow has drafted in Gosport’s skipper Jamie Brown, who led them to the FA Trophy Final last season, while letting striker Nicholas Bignall depart for Sutton.

That defeat, to a somewhat fortuitous free-kick strike from Shaun McAuley, is unlikely to have much bearing on Saturday’s game as it was an otherwise fairly even contest. The Dragons’ away form is good, with them having won 4-0 at Bath, 3-0 at Bromley and 2-0 at Bridgwater in the previous round of the FA Cup and totalling 16 goals on the road this season, which balances fairly neatly with Fleet’s 17 at home.

Basingstoke are buoyed not only by their form and rise to the top of the table but also by news of their planned new stadium, with the club having just held a public exhibition to talk through their plans.

Head-to-head

Venue Matches W D L Goals + / –
Home 11 7 2 2 14 – 6 +8
Away 12 3 3 6 14 – 20 -6
Total 23 10 5 8 28 – 26 +2

 

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