The question on most Fleet fans’ lips – and indeed one Steve Brown admitted he had pondered since the weekend – is whether Saturday’s 4-0 win over Dorchester will affect the team line-up for the club’s most important game of the season so far.
The fluid passing, attacking gusto and sheer amount of chances created – albeit against the bottom team and with the pressure off – meant many supporters seeing the Fleet in a new light after getting used to this season’s tried and trusted formula that has yielded a play-off place.
If Brown sticks to his favoured formation, then Alex Osborn – who had a brilliant second-half display on Saturday – will surely replace the suspended Michael Corcoran, leaving the only real question being who plays up front from Bricknell, May and Thalassitis. But after Saturday’s midfield tour de force featuring Stacy Long, Daryl McMahon and Osborn – not to mention defensive duties from Paul Lorraine and Shane Huke – there is at least another option to be considered.
But with Dean Rance also in the running (and it would seem unlikely that many people’s choice for player of the year would find himself left out), Brown may think now is not the time to meddle with formations and line-ups. Certainly the fluid Bromley midfield core of Waldren, Kiernan and Nicholls is a capable one that will require the sort of shackling role Rance excels at.
Brown certainly has a set of players who have been there and done it, with a good 13 or so of his squad having direct experience of play-offs in their recent history – many of them only last season with Dover Athletic. Indeed May and McMahon both scored at this stage last season en route to taking Dover into the final.
Fleet will be mindful, of course, of their impressive home form this season – and particularly this year, with Bromley the only team to have won at Stonebridge Road in 2014. But with play-off games by their nature cagey affairs, having home advantage straight off is not really a green light for all-out attack in the hope of putting the tie to bed before a trip to Hayes Lane.
But with 13 of Fleet’s 21 league victories having come at home, and only three defeats, a lead of some sort to defend in the return at Hayes Lane will certainly be the obvious desired outcome. And unless Dover beat Sutton in the other semi-final, this could be Stonebridge Road’s final home game of 2013-14 – regardless of whether it’s Bromley or Fleet who progress. What better excuse to put on another show like last Saturday’s?
So often it’s the case of a team breezing through the league season only to hit a brief rocky spell and then crash out of the play-offs. Bromley’s once seemingly unassailable lead at the top was eaten away by Eastleigh, and then even Sutton, and now manager Mark Goldberg must ensure that psychologically his side are in a positive mood.
Bromley have a good record in play-offs, having won all of their previous such ties (but then so have Fleet, albeit only three play-off matches) but unlike the other sides in the four-way face-off, they don’t have much recent experience of the situation. Defender Dean Pooley, of course, was a member of Fleet’s triumphant side three years ago (though played only briefly in the play-offs), while Rob Swaine was part of the Chelmsford side that lost to Fleet in 2011.
But Bromley’s threat lies in their attacking front two of Bradley Goldberg and Pierre Joseph Dubois, the two leading scorers in Skrill South with 23 and 18 goals respectively. Both scored in Bromley’s win on New Year’s Day, contributing to the Ravens’ proud record of being the highest scorers in Skrill South this season. Failing that, there is also Jake Reid to consider who has tormented Fleet several times this season for Hayes and Bath City, not to mention in Bromley colours.
Bromley, like the Fleet, had something of a stutter towards the end of 2013-14, going into April with a winless run of four matches. They turned that around, however, to go four games without defeat to end the season, with consecutive wins over Bishop’s Stortford and in-form Gosport Borough to set them up perfectly for Wednesday evening.
As one would expect of two sides finishing third and fourth, there is little to separate them. Bromley’s flying start (and Fleet’s stuttering one) gave them the advantage points-wise and while the Ravens are the top scorers, the Fleet boast a meaner defence. Add to that a win apiece either side of a goalless draw this season and neither side has any real psychological upper hand. Both even have identical form records: three wins, a draw and two defeats in their last six games.
Since last we met, Bromley have drafted in some new faces – Louis Dennis from Dagenham, Ali Fuseini from Sutton and ex-Braintree defender Adam Bailey-Dennis from Bury Town while Fleet’s only fresher likely to feature is Anthony Acheampong.
EUFC: D – L – W – L – W – W
Bromley: L – L – W – D – W – W