As one door shut on the Fleet in the FA Cup recently, another opens with Bromley the first hurdle in Fleet’s FA Trophy campaign, which gets under way at the Third Qualifying Round stage this weekend.
The tie against the one-time Skrill South leaders, deposed in midweek courtesy of Eastleigh’s win at Gosport, was one of the more unkind pairings thrown up in the Trophy draw – though Fleet’s home advantage is their fourth consecutive cup tie to be drawn at Stonebridge Road this season.
Steve Brown’s squad has been bolstered by the extension of Alex Osborn’s youth loan from Dagenham & Redbridge, which takes the 20-year-old striker’s tenure at the Fleet into February next year. Preston Edwards is also eyeing up a starting place following his return to fitness – with Brandon Hall’s opportunity seemingly coming and going last weekend thanks to bad weather.
The good news for the squad is tempered by an injury in training to on-loan striker Andy Pugh. The Cambridge player, who scored his first league goal against Concord two weeks ago, broke his wrist in an accident while back at his parent club – the latest woe following an ankle injury during his first month’s loan spell. It brings to mind Matt Godden’s two loan spells last season which were disrupted by recalls to his club – and Fleet didn’t get the full benefit of his loan either.
Brown knows he will definitely be without Pugh this weekend and with the striker’s loan due to end on November 23, the prognosis doesn’t look good. “Andy’s wrist has been set in a cast,” Brown told Fleetonline. “My understanding is that the cast comes off this Friday and the injury is then assessed by the doctor to determine if Andy will require surgery. The outcome of that tells us how long he will be sidelined for. If no operation is required, we might be able to get him involved the following week but with surgery the loan is effectively over.”
Shane Huke is another on the treatment table, of course, but Brown was reluctant to be drawn into discussing replacements from outside the club. “I get asked an awful lot about bringing in new players especially when we effectively lose someone for a long period through an injury. I’m always searching for players but they have to improve on what I have here and at this present time I’m happy with what I have compared to what is available.
“Football squads are always evolving and every single squad in every league changes as the season rolls on,” he continued. “We are no different, whatever the reason, whether it be an injury or a player becomes unhappy with his position within the squad, players will come and go. I have been delighted with players like Brandon Hall, Osei Sankofa, Chris Sessegnon and Michael Corcoran who have spent large periods of time out of the team and when called upon have been superb. I can’t explain how invaluable their attitudes have been and how much that affects us in a positive way as a group.”
As to Saturday’s opposition, Brown knows they will serve as a yardstick against which Fleet can measure their promotion chances this season – with Bromley up twice more in Skrill South over the next six weeks. “Bromley are a well organised team and top scorers in our league,” Brown said, “so we are expecting a very tough game. Defensively we will have to be at our best to come away with a victory. I’m hoping the break from playing has helped the players recover from the little niggling injuries we’ve had and other than Shane Huke and Andy Pugh, we should have everyone else available.”
It is now five years since the Fleet won this competition at Wembley and, save for a semi-final appearance in defence of their trophy in 2009, the club have not had too much luck in that time. Last season saw an exit at the first time of asking, losing 1-0 at home to Hereford. Stacy Long is the sole current player to have experienced Fleet’s one and only trip to Wembley (pictured above), though Daryl McMahon was part of the victorious Stevenage squad the season before.
The Trophy isn’t exactly a happy hunting ground for Bromley either, with their best performance coming in last season’s competition – a run to Round Three that was ended by Dartford, equalling a similar run in 1999-2000. And in their only meeting with the Fleet in the Trophy – at the same stage in our promotion season of 2010-11, they were dumped out 4-0 at Stonebridge Road.
As also occurred that season in the league, Bromley were the early pacesetters but soon dropped out of the promotion race. This time around, their challenge is considerably longer lasting and they are 10 points clear of the Fleet in Skrill South – though their cup form has been rather less impressive, exiting the FA Cup against Heybridge Swifts.
Likewise, their away form has been patchy with all three league defeats coming on their travels – at Eastleigh, Bishop’s Stortford and Sutton. Indeed that’s a statistic that may give Fleet some heart – in that Bromley have struggled to beat teams at the higher end of the table. On the other hand, the Lillywhites are a free-scoring side, with nine goals in their last two games against Chelmsford and Dorchester – and they have also netted four or five goals against Whitehawk and Tonbridge Angels this season.
Manager’s son Bradley Goldberg – a former Charlton youth – has 10 league goals to his name already to lead the Skrill South scoring charts – netting a hat-trick against Chelmsford in midweek – and partner Pierre Joseph-Dubois isn’t far behind with six. Elsewhere in the Bromley squad, defender Dean Pooley will be familiar to Fleet fans, having been part of the side that was relegated from the Conference Premier and then promoted back the following season, while goalkeeper Joe Welch deputised for Preston Edwards in the 2011-12 season.
Bromley have perhaps surprised some with their start, but with a settled side this season, a free-scoring front line and a hard-working midfield duo in Danny Waldren – a former Croydon teammate of Joe Howe’s – and Ashley Nicholls, they don’t appear likely to buckle any time soon.
Both sides will be testing the mettle of their promotion rivals this Saturday with the Trophy tie just stage one in a trilogy that could help decide both teams’ destinies as we head into 2014.
* Please note, any required replay will take place on Monday, November 18 at Hayes Lane.
Fleet v Bromley head-to-head
|Venue||Matches||W||D||L||Goals||+ / –|
|Home||13||7||2||4||32 – 20||+12|
|Away||14||5||5||4||17 – 20||-3|
|Neutral||4||1||2||1||7 – 7||+0|
|Total||31||13||9||9||56 – 47||+9|
Recent form (all competitions)