If Andy Drury makes his 200th appearance at Barnet this weekend, it would be somewhat fitting for the midfielder who was also in a Fleet shirt the last time the two clubs met – some 14 years ago.
In those days, Drury lined up alongside the likes of current Maidstone and Tonbridge managers Jay Saunders and Steve McKimm in the Fleet midfield – now he’s the old head as we renew acquaintances with the Bees. Drury has played 142 times since that Barnet game in December 2004, across two spells for the Fleet, and he’s set to join Dean Rance as the only players at the club to hit the 200-mark.
And he’s not the only midfielder with an occasion to mark as Luke Coulson – so far restricted to one appearance from the bench this season – returns to the club who sold him last summer and will be doubly keen to prove a point should he get further game time on Saturday.
Both clubs will be keen to right the wrongs of midweek, with Barnet suffering defeat at Harrogate Town, and Fleet’s first ever visit to The Hive is sure to be an uncompromising affair.
Daryl McMahon hasn’t found his side wanting in performance but he’s challenged them to get their noses in front and take their chances, with Fleet’s two defeats coming to single goals against opposition who then rallied in deep defensive ranks and shut up shop.
“John [Still]’s teams are decent,” McMahon said. “But so far this season, in terms of where we are this year compared to last year, we’re a far better team. You can see that already in the confidence in this group in terms of going into games and taking control of the ball wherever we go and we’re positive in what we do. So we’re very much looking forward to this one.”
Dean Rance and Kenny Clark stand poised to return to the squad, giving McMahon a largely clean bill of health right through his squad… and the selection headaches that entails. The shorter journey compared to last weekend certainly suits the travelling fans who are expected to make it to Barnet in decent numbers and swell an attendance that reached only 1,028 against Eastleigh last weekend.
Indeed Barnet fans haven’t seen much to encourage them since taking their place in the National League once more. John Still has returned from Dagenham but results have been poor, with two draws and two defeats leaving the much-fancied Bees in 20th place at this very early stage. The Hive has seen a draw with newly promoted Braintree and defeat to Eastleigh but Barnet’s squad is certainly a capable one and Fleet will be wary of them deciding to kick-start their season this weekend.
There are plenty of ex-Daggers on show, with Corey Whitely and Michael Cheek in the visiting squad together with goalkeeper Mark Cousins and midfielders Charlee Adams, Andre Boucaud, Craig Robson and Dan Sparkes all having played for Still’s former club last season.
A couple of other familiar faces include former Maidstone United midfielder Dan Sweeney, ex-Barrow and Sutton striker Byron Harrison and the ex-Aldershot defensive pair of Cheye Alexander and Callum Reynolds who played against the Fleet in the play-off eliminator last season. Then there’s Dave Tarpey, of course, but the former Maidenhead hotshot is yet to play this season after his long lay-off from a broken leg shortly after signing in 2017/18.
Shaq Coulthirst will likely be the chief danger. The former Southend, Peterborough and Mansfield Town striker scored 10 goals for the relegated Bees last season. He is an ex-England U19 international and played for Tottenham in a Europa League qualifier.
Still has asked Barnet fans for patience, saying the club is in a rebuilding phase. Much like his opposite number, the Barnet boss has seen his side concede few and create plenty… but not convert their chances.
While Fleet have never played at The Hive before, our most memorable games at Barnet’s former home Underhill include a 4-1 win in 2002/03 (our last win against them) and the 1-1 draw in the 1989 FA Trophy when we were two divisions below the Bees. It’s the 27th meeting between the clubs, with Barnet enjoying 15 wins to the Fleet’s five.