Someone’s winning run will end at Hayes Lane on Boxing Day – whether it be Bromley’s 100% home return this season or Fleet’s record-breaking streak of nine games.
The eagerly anticipated clash between Skrill South’s pacesetters and the side in third place who also have grand designs on automatic promotion kicks off at 3.00pm.
Ebbsfleet United – some 13 points adrift of their opponents and county rivals (albeit with a game in hand) – will know that defeat at Hayes Lane, and the same at Stonebridge Road on New Year’s Day, would then require a collapse of major proportions on Bromley’s part to keep automatic promotion as a realistic proposition.
Fleet’s Hayes Lane record is not the best, with a win there long overdue (1998 was the last such occasion unless one counts the 4-0 Kent Senior Cup Final victory in 2008 – but that was against Cray Wanderers). Two of the more painful memories from the Bromley home ground in recent times include the 3-0 reverse in the 2008-09 FA Cup and the 3-2 Kent Senior Cup Final defeat in 2006.
So a minimum four-point target from the two Bromley games would seem a reasonable expectation for Fleet if they are to shrug off their poor start to the season and keep the fight for the Skrill South title alive. Certainly, recent form – and indeed the 4-1 win over Bromley in the FA Trophy – suggests Fleet are more than capable of reducing the gap to first place but manager Steve Brown knows his men need to be at the very top of their game to pull it off.
To that end, Brown had the Fleet squad in training on Christmas Eve despite the weather and ensuing travel chaos and reports no new casualties in a squad whose only question is over Daryl McMahon’s recovery from illness. Anthony Cook seems to be firing on all cylinders again after playing through various niggles in recent weeks while Billy Bricknell’s weekend brace against Sutton could see him continue to ease ahead of Ben May in the pecking order.
Indeed the May family could be somewhat under-represented on Boxing Day as Ben’s brother Jay – who scored Bromley’s consolation goal at Stonebridge Road in November – is out with a broken hand. As if the Lilywhites weren’t blessed enough up front, however – having scored 43 league goals this season – they have bolstered their front line with the addition of Hayes hotshot Jake Reid. The former Newport and Telford striker has scored seven times for Hayes this season – including one against the Fleet – and goes straight into the Bromley squad. Midfielder Steven Smith has gone in the other direction.
Pierre-Joseph Dubois is also battling an injury, having sat out his side’s win at Weston on Saturday, and his nine goals this season mean any absence will surely be a big one for the home side. That said, Dubois’ strike partner Bradley Goldberg is the league’s top scorer and his 12th strike on Saturday maintained Bromley’s relentless drive towards the Skrill South championship.
Two other new faces who didn’t play in the Trophy tie at Stonebridge Road are tricky winger Albert Jarrett who could make a comeback from injury against the Fleet, and will almost certainly make the bench at least, as well as Ryan Hall. He is another major attacking threat who plays in an advanced wide midfield role and is in his second spell at Hayes Lane, having played in the Football League for Southend, Leeds United and Sheffield United in recent seasons.
Manager Mark Goldberg, who criticised his side after their defeat at Stonebridge Road for being “maybe a little bit too gung-ho” will have to decide whether to maintain that setup at home or remain cautious in defence against a Fleet side he praised as “clinical”. That said, the Bromley boss sees no significant psychological advantage in the Fleet’s November victory and believes his side’s impetus and goalscoring abilities to be the more important ingredient come matchday.
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