Fleet go into tomorrow’s FA Cup second qualifying round tie against Folkestone Invicta with a strong chance of welcoming Ben May back into the fold. The 29-year-old summer recruit has been restricted to one substitute appearance at Eastbourne this season after a back injury ruled him out for much of the campaign so far, but manager Steve Brown is hopeful of May playing at least some part on Saturday.
“Ben has come through three training sessions with flying colours,” Brown told EUFC.co.uk, “and as long as he progresses in our final session then in my mind he is available for selection.”
With media reports that the Fleet boss was hoping to give fringe players a runout, Brown – who has played in two FA Cup quarter-finals himself – clarified he has no intentions of taking the FA Cup tie lightly. “Match fitness is always an issue and with no reserves, the two cup games coming up give me an opportunity to get Ben some game time. Saturday and Tuesday [in the Kent Senior Cup] give the staff and the players an opportunity to progress in the cup competitions, something which we are keen to do. There will of course be changes but not wholesale changes: I want to approach these games with the same levels of determination and professionalism as we do the league games and win them.”
May’s potential inclusion is all the more likely as recent loan signing Andy Pugh does not have permission from parent club Cambridge who do not want him cup tied.
Brown also revealed, meanwhile, that Chris Sessegnon’s loan at Cray, which ends on October 4, has proved to be a worthwhile exercise. “Chris feels fitter and sharper for having played in the games,” Brown said. “He picked up a slight ankle injury on Saturday and didn’t feature in the game at Bognor on Tuesday night but I’m positive he will be fit by the weekend.”
Fleet haven’t a great deal of experience at second qualifying round level in recent years, having enjoyed the luxury of a fourth qualifying round start every year but one since 2003. That year – 2010 – witnessed a hard-fought win after a replay against Cray Wanderers in a campaign that saw Fleet cruelly beaten in the final minute by AFC Wimbledon in a First Round replay.
Fleet’s opponents, meanwhile, Folkestone Invicta are struggling in the Ryman League Division One South, fourth from bottom with two wins. Recent form, however, suggests things are looking up with the south coast side – and last year’s play-off semi-finalists – unbeaten in three and having won their last two games, including an FA Cup victory over Eastbourne United. Midweek, though, they lost star striker and former Ryman Golden Boot winner Stuart King to Herne Bay and are set to give Jimmy Dryden a start up front who has signed on dual registration forms from Ashford United.
Invicta defender Chris Elliott is ruled out through suspension and their two new signings – Tim Roberts and Michael Yianni – are cup-tied. But a loss of a few personnel has not unduly upset the visitors’ manager, Neil Cugley, who believes his side have everything to gain from their trip to Stonebridge Road. And with some wise old heads on the pitch – ex-Gillingham and Hibernian midfielder and Invicta player coach Roland Edge together with ex-Fleet forward and another player-coach Simon Austin – Cugley is eager for his younger players to show what they’re capable of. “We’re really looking forward to it” he told his club’s website. “It’s a chance for the younger lads to impress and for our more experienced players to enjoy a big occasion at the other end of their playing career.”
Folkestone will be hoping to emulate their side of 2005-06 which reached the First Round Proper and lost narrowly to then-League side Chester City – and certainly to go one better than on their last trip to Stonebridge Road, a 3-0 defeat in the 2000 Kent Senior Cup Final.