A new season that will pass into a new decade amidst a new era for the Fleet, 2019/20 gets under way with the visit of FC Halifax Town this Saturday.
Expectation, optimism, uncertainty – it’s all there up and down the National League tomorrow but it’s at the Kuflink Stadium where it matters most as far as Fleet fans are concerned.
Unbeaten across six pre-season friendlies and with 13 goals to their name, Fleet’s new squad has knitted together well. And Garry Hill is pleased with his preparations, despite still eyeing one or two spaces in his squad.
“The number one thing was getting up to a level of match fitness and to start looking ready for the season which is what any manager of any football club will want to see,” Hill said ahead of the Halifax game.
“And to be free of injuries. Even though we’re working with a very, very small squad, we’ve had some very competitive pre-season games with the players who have joined settling in well as a group. That’s been the case in all the summer games we’ve played and performances have reflected that.”
Pre-season results are largely forgotten the moment the whistle blows on the real thing but Hill would rather win friendlies than lose them for obvious reasons.
“We always say as a management team, those games and results aren’t the be all and end all, they won’t even matter come kick-off, but it’s certainly a lot better going into the start of the season with encouraging results and performances which gives us and the fans a certain amount of confidence, even more so when we’ve got so many new lads.”
And those new lads – perhaps as many as seven and more from the bench depending on the starting lineup Hill opts for – will make their debuts for the club at the Kuflink Stadium to begin what is likely to be a campaign full of unknowns for squad and supporters alike.
The opposition arrive as something of an unknown as well. As a club, Halifax have a poor record in North Kent, losing seven of eight visits – but this is a team that could spring a surprise on the Fleet management team, largely because there may be some last-minute business by the Shaymen.
Their pre-season has been interrupted by off-field issues, with manager Jamie Fullarton departing only two weeks ago, to be replaced by former Oldham boss Pete Wild.
And a couple of planned friendlies were also called off at the last minute, leaving Town’s summer preparations if not quite in disarray then certainly in a state of flux.
For all that, they have produced some good results in July, not least a 1-0 win at Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night.
With a signed squad only 14-strong last week, Wild has added a couple more faces and has a number of trialists ready to put pen to paper.
Former Accrington midfielder Liam Nolan signed yesterday and winger Sanmi Odelusi, who was released by the club in May, has returned on non-contract terms. Three unnamed trialists started the match at Oldham, one of whom scored the winner, and names doing the rounds in recent weeks at Halifax include former Chesterfield defender Jerome Binnom-Williams, ex-Norwich youth Ben Wyatt and ex-Aldershot midfielder Regan Booty.
Other new signings this summer include Dover striking pair Jamie Allen and Tobi Sho-Silva and understudy goalkeeper Will Appleyard. Striker Dayle Southwell is meanwhile sidelined with injury.
Heading for the exit door and probably Town’s biggest loss was winger Matty Kosylo who signed for title hopefuls AFC Fylde, while Jonny Edwards came to Kent to play for Maidstone and other departures included Jordan Preston (Gateshead), Ryan Sellars (Wealdstone) and Ben Tomlinson (Alfreton Town).
Halifax will be keen to forget their last visit to the Kuflink Stadium when Garry Hill earned his first win as Fleet boss to the tune of 4-0. The return at The Shay was a hard-fought 0-0 draw marred by a post-match bust-up between Chris Bush and Kosylo, both now of course at new clubs.
For the Fleet, Lawrie Wilson resumed training during the week and Sean Shields was also facing a fitness test following him being sidelined for the Brighton friendly last Friday.
The match is not segregated so Halifax fans are free to use the Fleet Social Club/bar and use both turnstile areas. Car-parking is available at Ebbsfleet International Car Park C for £3 and we would respectfully ask supporters not to block residences or business around the ground. There is also a risk of cars being ticketed on Thames Way on the approach to the ground before the roundabout so please avoid parking along that stretch of road.