As a phrase, ‘all square’ could have been written last season for the Fleet and this Saturday’s opponents Hampton & Richmond Borough. There was precious little to separate the two sides in 2020/21, either when they met face to face in some ‘challenging’ weather conditions or in the overall ‘final’ table.
Hampton had a single point more than the Fleet when the campaign was called to a halt, with the Beavers the final visitors to the Kuflink Stadium in a game when the home army of volunteers cleared tonnes of snow and ice from the pitch to get the match played on a freezing night in North Kent.
Fleet won that one 2-1 only weeks after Hampton had triumphed by the same scoreline on their own pitch, a last-gasp David Fisher winner cancelling out Michael West’s equaliser with his first touch after coming off the bench. Both managers will no doubt be glad of a somewhat drier forecast at the Beveree this time around.
This season both of us have experienced 2-1 defeats at the hands of Havant & Waterlooville to add another thing in common to the mix, while our 75th anniversary season also coincides with the Beavers’ centenary.
Hampton have provided stiff resistance more often than not in recent years in clashes with the Fleet, including a play-off semi-final in 2017, and manager Gary McCann has his eyes on another tilt at promotion this season.
This early in the campaign it’s somewhat misleading to talk of good or bad starts, though Hampton haven’t stormed out of the blocks as yet. A couple of late goals conceded have seen points go begging, one in that aforementioned defeat to Havant and another last Saturday when Tonbridge scored in time added on to deny McCann’s side three points.
As such it’s been four games without a win for the Beavers after their superb opening-day thrashing of a very good Eastbourne Borough when Hampton went to the South Coast and fired five without reply. It leaves them 12th in the table but with the potential to leapfrog the Fleet if Saturday goes according to their gameplan.
The Beavers kept most of last season’s squad together over the summer, though lost Mauro Vilhete – the man who opened the scoring against the Fleet last January – to Dagenham & Redbridge. Returning to the club are last season’s successful loanees Ryan Gondoh – who received two yellow cards off the pitch at Tonbridge last week – as well as danger man David Fisher on a season-long stay from AFC Wimbledon.
Other new arrivals include former Torquay and Hartlepool defender Myles Anderson, winger Jorome Slew from Wealdstone and ex-Margate and Dover striker Kadell Daniel. Meanwhile, familiar foes such as goalkeeper Alan Julian and ex-Maidenhead centre-back Dean Inman remain, though Inman is currently out with an ankle injury.
And the latest signing who could make his debut against the Fleet is 20-year-old forward Charles Hagan, who joins until January from Sheffield Wednesday. There are two more loanees due in the door before Saturday as well, with the manager looking to plug a few gaps due to injuries.
Last season’s visit to Hampton came in deepest midwinter on a very boggy surface though Fleet fans will remember previous trips in milder weather on a rock-hard surface – not that Dennis Kutrieb is concerned to make too much of that.
“Teams can do what they want with their pitch,” said the Fleet boss following comments about Chelmsford’s bumpy pitch last Bank Holiday. “I would do the same. I would do everything to get a win, it’s home advantage. We as the visitors have to adapt, we have to get on with it. Pitch conditions are no excuse. Hampton last season was very challenging because of the weather that month and Hampton did brilliantly to get that game on. We managed to play some great football on that despite everything and yes, we lost the game late on, but we would not use pitches as an excuse.
“You want to have the three points and if they’re a nasty three points or a nice three points, or with good football or bad football, it doesn’t matter,” he added. “Of course I’m happy with the way we play, of course I see the quality in our team but we need to understand that we want to win the games. It doesn’t matter how.”
Rakish Bingham returned to the squad last weekend after treatment on a knock in the previous weeks and could push for a starting place at Hampton, having scored against the Beavers last season (see highlights from our last meeting below).
If you’re looking for predictions, 2-1 is a common theme with the clubs’ last four meetings all finishing by that scoreline – three wins for the Fleet and one for the Beavers.
Advance tickets are recommended to alleviate queues at the gate at Hampton and those can be purchased online here.