It was arguably the 6-0 demolition of Weston-super-Mare back in October that kick-started Ebbsfleet United’s season and pushed Steve Brown’s side on from a tricky start into rock-solid play-off competitors.
And with the Seagulls migrating east this weekend – weather permitting (an increasingly repetitive phrase if ever there was one these last few months) – the Fleet will be looking to push on again after a mixed start to 2014.
With victories ever harder to dig out as we head into the business end of the season – the wins over Farnborough and Bishop’s Stortford are evidence enough of that – the Fleet boss will be keen to address one of his most recent frustrations, namely giving the opposition a head start.
With Fleet having come from behind against Bishop’s Stortford two weeks ago, and having to do it with rather less success against Eastleigh last weekend, Brown knows his side cannot afford to let teams of decent standing out of the blocks with such alarming regularity.
“We’ve got to stop giving away the first goal and having to fight to get back into games,” Brown commented after the Eastleigh game. “It’s a habit that’s becoming all too familiar at the moment.”
And the Fleet boss continues to be frustrated in his attempts to bolster his troops – particularly with Chris Sessegnon facing a suspension from next week following his sending-off at Eastleigh. “We are talking to players and without getting into the reasons,” Brown told Radio Kent last week, “I can’t get deals across the line because despite what everyone thinks and says, we get outbid quite often. Some players won’t come to us because we won’t break the wage cap that I’ve got in place.
“It looks like I’m going to lose another one this week that I’ve been lining up for about a month because one of our competitors is willing to offer 50% more in wages. So I have to keep all that under wraps a little bit because I can do my homework, find a player and make my move but someone else gets wind of it and trumps everything we’ve done to bring the player here.”
Recruitment frustrations aside, Fleet have no fresh injury worries and can welcome back Dean Rance from his enforced disciplinary lay-off. Sessegnon’s own suspension does not kick in yet so he is free to line up against Weston while Dominic Green has returned from a loan spell at Tonbridge that was scuppered by the frequent postponements during January.
Given the fluid nature of the Skrill South table, Fleet seem to be regularly playing against fellow play-off contenders and the recent form of Weston-super-Mare makes this clash yet another potential six-pointer. The Seagulls enjoyed a highly impressive win over title hopefuls Eastleigh at the end of a three-match run of victories recently but then came unstuck with a single-goal defeat at home to Gosport last weekend.
They currently sit five points and two places behind the Fleet, having played a game more, but manager Craig Laird is eager to improve on his side’s best-ever league finish of seventh last season. The Seagulls have recently lost top scorer Tristan Plummer to Aldershot after the frontman caught the eye scoring against the Shots in an FA Trophy tie.
Goalscoring duties will thus fall to Nabi Diallo, though the pressure is off slightly given the rich vein of form of midfielders Chas Hemmings and Ashley Kington who have nine goals between them.
The Weston side is fairly settled, with manager Laird having gathered his squad over a number of seasons and they have showed a great understanding and real improvement in the last season or two. Laird even counts two of his own sons amongst his number, defender Jamie likely to start and midfielder Callum a probable substitute.
Since their 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Fleet, Weston have drafted in former Aldershot midfielder Cameron Brown and beat Bath City to the signing of ex-Lancaster and Northwich centre back Daniel Gregson. Goalkeeper Lloyd Irish, meanwhile, is likely to get the nod ahead of Luke Purnell who was the luckless custodian when Fleet went on the rampage back in October. Irish was on loan at Tiverton but has returned to stake his claim for the No.1 jersey.
|Venue||Matches||W||D||L||Goals||+ / –|
|Home||2||1||1||0||5 – 3||+2|
|Away||3||1||0||2||8 – 4||+4|
|Total||5||2||1||2||13 – 7||+6|
Fleet: D – L – L – W – W – L
Weston-s-M: L -L – W – W – W – L