Minus the suspended Dean Rance (pictured), Fleet renew acquaintances with Gosport Borough this Saturday after a 23-year gap that has seen fortunes between the clubs contrast sharply.
Regular foes in the Southern League throughout the Eighties and early Nineties – a time when Fleet’s trips down the A3 would occur with alarming regularity to the likes of not only Gosport but Poole, RS Southampton, Fareham, Weymouth, Havant, Waterlooville, Dorchester, Newport IOW and Bashley – Gosport then fell into the Wessex League while Fleet rode high in the Conference Premier.
When the two sides take to the field on Saturday, the contrast in league position will be the most obvious to draw, with Fleet’s run of five wins in all competitions taking them to 9th and two points off a play-off place. Gosport, meanwhile, are struggling in their first season in Skrill South, sitting one off the bottom of the league table and with just one point on the road thus far this season.
But manager Steve Brown knows he needs to keep that winning mentality in focus amongst his squad who must not be diverted by the thoughts of next week’s big FA Cup clash. And, expecting Gosport to be understandably less adventurous than Eastleigh, he is aware that when teams have put men behind the ball in previous visits to Stonebridge Road, his Fleet side – until recently – found breaking them down a tough task.
On-loan striker Andy Pugh is nearing full fitness and will probably be looking for a place on the bench this weekend, and in contention for a starting spot in midweek – but that’s all supposing something happens to persuade Brown to tinker with what now seems to be his preferred partnership in May-Bricknell, which has yielded goals aplenty in recent weeks.
Defender Grant Basey is also continuing his rehabilitation but is a further week or so behind Pugh in returning to action. As mentioned above, Rance misses out courtesy of a one-match suspension for picking up his fifth yellow card a few games back while Daryl McMahon will be assessed on the ankle injury that saw him substituted against Eastbourne.
Gosport have this week signed a familiar figure in former Aldershot and Torquay striker Tim Sills, 34. The 2008 FA Trophy finalist has agreed a two-and-a-half-year deal and joins from Bashley. Elsewhere in the squad, goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore has attracted attention from League clubs, though he has recently been slugging it out with understudy Gareth Barfoot for the No.1 shirt.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of experience in midfield via 38-year-old Sammy Igoe, who has more than 350 Football League appearances with the likes of Portsmouth, Reading, Bristol Rovers and Swindon Town to his name.
For a side that has struggled to score goals this season, the chief threat is actually a midfielder – skipper Jamie Brown has netted three times this season, his last goal coming in Gosport’s only win this season – a 2-0 triumph over Tonbridge Angels. And regardless of Gosport’s problems in front of goal this season, the addition of Sills combined with Andy Forbes could yet prove the masterstroke to rekindle Forbes’ goalscoring ability. A former teammate of Daryl McMahon’s at Eastleigh, he scored more than 350 goals in the Wessex League for Andover and Winchester before his move to a higher level.
Manager Alex Pike was the youngest boss ever to lift the FA Vase when he guided Wimborne Town to Wembley glory back in 1992. He has three Wessex League titles under his belt too, not to mention three promotions with Gosport who have enjoyed a rapid rise since winning the Wessex League title in 2007. His assistant Mick Catlin, meanwhile, will know a thing or two about Ebbsfleet through his close friendship with former Fleet boss Liam Daish.
Having been two weeks without football – an early FA Cup exit and a postponed match against Sutton have led to a lengthy period off for Gosport – the visitors have no injury concerns and are ready to answer assistant boss Catlin’s call that they have to be “up for the scrap” to quickly get results on the board.
Fleet v Gosport head to head
|Venue||Matches||W||D||L||Goals||+ / –|
|Home||5||3||2||0||8 – 2||+6|
|Away||5||2||1||2||5 – 4||+1|
|Total||10||5||3||2||13 – 6||+7|