The opening day of the season seems like a long time ago, but we come full circle today as the return fixture rolls around. In a repeat of the previous campaign’s play-off semi-final, Fleet triumphed 3-0 over Chippenham Town to kick-off 2022/23 and now go in search of three more vital points against the same opponents.
Rescheduled from the postponed Saturday game back in December, it’s Fleet’s second successive midweek visit to the Thornbury Surfacing Stadium after a 5-2 win there early last season. Any sort of similar result will delight the travelling faithful who will be there with their side for a love-in this Valentine’s evening as Fleet finally play their last game in hand over main title rivals Dartford.
A positive result would put Dennis Kutrieb’s side 11 points clear with 15 matches remaining but nobody in the Fleet camp will even be thinking about that statistic until the final whistle rolls around at Chippenham.
As top scorer Dominic Poleon pointed out on Saturday after another two-goal blast took him to 22 league goals for the season, “We’re all focused, we’re really pushing on now. We take each game as it comes and we’re all locked in on that next game. We’ve turned our bad spell around with a force and we’re delighted we can repay the travelling fans.”
The hosts, of course, will be battling for points as much as the Fleet will. Unlike last season when an exciting late charge took them through to the play-off semis and an extra-time battle against the Fleet, Chippenham will need a late burst this season merely to maintain their league status.
They’re certainly up for the battle – they landed something of a coup by signing the National League North top scorer Matt McClure from Gloucester City recently to replace the outgoing Jordan Young who departed for Yeovil Town. The former Maidstone and Aldershot striker is still awaiting his first goal for his new club but had hit 13 for Gloucester in 24 games before his move.
Aside from McClure’s recruitment, much of the Chippenham squad is still familiar from earlier in the season and last year, with the likes of goalkeeper Will Henry, centre-back Spencer Hamilton, Joe Hanks, Luke Russe and the tricky Alefe Santos continuing to form the spine of the side.
In the absence of Young, and until McClure clicks into form, goals are proving troublesome for the Bluebirds who have the lowest conversion rate in the division. Their other source of goals was a Swindon loanee Harry Parsons but he has switched to Farnborough for the rest of the season.
Not that Chippenham should be taken lightly. Like the Fleet, they fired three at Bath City to record a 3-1 win on Boxing Day and saw off League One side Lincoln City at home in the Emirates FA Cup earlier this season. And on home soil in the league, they have beaten the likes of Dartford and Oxford City. Indeed Havant & Waterlooville are the only team to have brushed Chippenham aside at the TS Stadium and the Bluebirds don’t concede a lot of goals on their own patch.
This will be only Chippenham’s 11th home game this season compared to the Fleet’s 16, so Gary Horgan’s side have a few games in hand to catch up on and points to amass if they want to overhaul Concord, Hampton and Cheshunt and climb to a position of safety.
It all points to one of those typical encounters at this stage of the season where points are paramount for both sides but for very different reasons.
• There will be live commentary this evening via the FleetLive Twitter link at https://twitter.com/LiveFleet/