Six goals were shared by the Fleet and AFC Fylde last season and both sides have only enhanced their attacking reputations since then, leading to an expectation that it might very well rain goals at the Kuflink Stadium this Saturday. That, however, would be to ignore that the Coasters currently boast the best defensive record in the division with just three goals conceded, while Fleet lie just behind them with four.
Not that Daryl McMahon is expecting Saturday to be a defensive grind; “I think it’ll be open,” he told eufc.co.uk. “Both ourselves and Fylde do like to attack, that’s for sure. We both play similar styles of football. They’ve got Danny Rowe who’s a phenomenal striker at this level and they’ve recruited in the summer, probably the best of the teams in this league. They’ve signed some really good players and kept hold of Rowe, which is massive for any team to fight off interest in your goalscorer. I respect [manager] Dave Challinor, and I think they’ll be right up there at the end of the season.”
Striker Rowe, of course, has long been the talk of non-league football with 47 goals in Fylde’s National League North title-winning campaign and 24 last season, including one in each of the games against the Fleet. And while McMahon will be telling his defence to heed the warnings of such a potent force, he won’t be changing Fleet’s approach to the fixture.
“Rowe obviously has a reputation,” he said. “Do we single him out for special treatment? Listen, I treat him like any striker. We go into detail about everybody in every game, whether it’s Danny Rowe on Saturday or Paul McCallum at Eastleigh last week. It doesn’t matter who it is, our centre halves will be well aware and prepared for what the opposition striker is good at. He scored against us in both games last year. The second game at Christmas, we’d played brilliantly and deserved to win I think, and he killed us with the equaliser right at the end. He can score a goal out of nothing, we know that. We’ve got to be alive the whole game against him. But we should always be alive to any threat, in every game, so we just do our jobs, play our game.”
Fleet enter the game off the back of three successive wins, while the Coasters have had two goalless draws. Now that Fleet have chalked up goals and points at home, they can go into the match against the third-placed Lancashire side with renewed confidence. Myles Weston’s switch to left-back in both games last weekend (pictured) was a new tactic and one the manager was delighted to see pay off.
“In the week leading up to Aldershot, we looked at that position with Westy in training,” he explained. “If we needed to change our shape while we were playing, if we were up against a side who’s playing one up front, do we need three defenders against one centre forward? So the option was pushing Sam Magri wide and drop Westy down one so it’s 2 v 1 at the back which gives us another more attacking player. We tried it a couple of times in training last week and then against Aldershot the opportunity was there and we went for it again at Eastleigh. I thought Westy adapted very well to it.”
Another change of direction for McMahon has been to name five outfield players on the bench, with no goalkeeper, and it’s one he believes gives him more options.
“How many times have I changed the goalkeeper in three, three and a half years?” he said. “The answer’s none. I don’t know how many matches that is, maybe 150, 170, and we haven’t changed it once. It will, of course, happen – and then it will bite me on the bottom – but until that point we have the option of another attacking substitution. In cup competitions it’s a little bit different but in the league games it means we can have another attacking option. Chris Bush is a capable enough goalkeeper, Keds would even probably fancy himself in goal! In the grand scheme of things, across all of football, a goalkeeper change doesn’t happen that often. Like I said, it probably will happen, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.”
The Fleet boss has no fresh injury concerns, but Kenny Clark remains sidelined, more with residual pain from his injury rather than the injury itself. As McMahon explained, “The muscle has healed. It was an impact injury so Clarky had a grade 1 tear of the abductor and bone bruising. The muscle’s completely fine but he’s still got an issue with the bone bruising so until he can deal with the pain of that, he can’t push on. It’s one of those that as soon as he can handle the pain, he’s back. There’s no residual injury as such, it’s just getting over that last little bit of pain.”
AFC Fylde arrive unbeaten this season, having bolstered their squad in the summer with the likes of £50,000 midfield signing Ryan Croasdale, formerly skipper at Kidderminster Harriers. They have a couple of injury concerns with club capatain Lewis Montrose sidelined and defender Jordan Tunnicliffe having sat out the last few games, though the latter has been training and could be recalled this weekend.
Other arrivals this summer include ex-Chelsea youth Danny Philliskirk from Blackpool, Joe Cardle from Dunfermline Athletic and winger Ashley Hemmings who signed for Salford from Boston United in May then promptly departed for Fylde without playing a game for the league favourites. Another short-lived transfer is midfielder Jim Kellermann, last seen being carried off at Aldershot in our play-off clash last May. He moved to St Mirren but after only a handful of games in the SPL, he has returned to the National League on a season-long loan at Fylde.
Three players who were instrumental in Fylde’s flowing attack in last season’s game have moved on, with Sam Finley at Accrington Stanley, Jack Muldoon at Harrogate Town and Henry Jones at Bala Town in Wales. But manager Dave Challinor’s recruitment has been strong and with Rowe still banging in the goals up front, his side carry plenty of threat.
Rowe has four goals this season already with Fylde already having thrashed Dover and also put Solihull Moors and Bromley to the sword. They have drawn all three away games so far, however, at Wrexham, Havant and Sutton.
Saturday’s game is not segregated so home fans are free to stand at the Swanscombe End and away fans are permitted entry to the bar. All supporters are reminded not to park along Thames Way which is subject to traffic-warden patrols and to leave extra time for arrival due to four-way traffic lights in the area. Car-parking can be found near the ground at Ebbsfleet International Stadium, Car Park C, for £3.