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PREVIEW: Gateshead

With a football schedule interrupted by an international break, there may be added interest directed towards BT Sport’s late kick-off at the Kuflink Stadium. It’s Fleet’s sixth appearance in front of the cameras since our return to the National League while for Gateshead it’s something of a new experience, the club having not featured at all through last season.

The TV focus always adds something of an occasion off the field but Daryl McMahon says nothing changes in his approach. “We train as usual, we approach the game as usual. I do interviews before and after as usual and I don’t do any in-game stuff, so other than the cameras being in the way, we don’t treat it any differently.”

Having seen their home revival checked by AFC Fylde last week, the Fleet will be eager to put on a show in front of the watching audience. Having made five changes in midweek at Dover, McMahon will likely be forced into at least two more. Myles Weston joins Ebou Adams on international duty, with the pair not back at the club until Wednesday.

In addition to that, Dave Winfield is a doubt after coming off in the first half at Crabble. “He’s got a hamstring issue, I’m not too sure yet how serious,” the manager told eufc.co.uk. “He’s been in having treatment. I don’t know how bad it is yet, I’d imagine it’s probably unlikely he’ll play as it’s a hamstring. Even a slight one, there’s no point risking that. We’ll see how it goes, we’ll give him every chance of playing if he feels OK, but we’re not going to push that.”

Chris Bush is in line to keep his place in the side, against his former club and the team he made his Fleet debut against last season. Kenny Clark is nearing a return but this Saturday will be too soon.

“Clarky’s doing OK,” said McMahon. “He did a bit of training this week but he should be back in full training Monday morning ready for Wrexham next Saturday.”

Darren McQueen earned the praise of the boss as he came in ahead of Danny Kedwell, who was rested alongside Andy Drury.

“Darren was good and it was great to get his goal,” McMahon said. “Strikers thrive off goals, it gives them confidence. No matter what you say to them, they always judge themselves off goals so it’s good for us to get him up and running. He played well and he also looked sharp v Fylde, He backed that up with a good performance on Tuesday night.

“Keds and Drury are big players for us, good experience, big-game players and they don’t tend to go missing on big occasions. We need to make sure we’ve got them at a good level physically across as many games as we can. They’ve both more or less played every minute of every game this season so I thought it was time to give them a break on Tuesday and other players an opportunity to stake a claim.”

While the departure of Adams and Weston (Adams to Gambia to take on Algeria and then Togo, Weston to Antigua & Barbuda to face St Lucia) robs McMahon of half his regular midfield, the Fleet boss pointed to his squad’s strength in depth.

“We’ll miss both of them,” he said. “They’ve had good starts to this season. But we’ve got people to come in. Drury didn’t play Tuesday, there’s Coulson, Whitely, Wilson, Bags, so we’re not going to go short.”

Gateshead are just one goal behind the Fleet on goal difference and have had a better start to the season than many observers predicted. A home win over Salford City was the pick of their four wins so far this season. While they lost the bulk of their first-team squad in the summer as questions hung over the club’s ownership, manager Steve Watson was persuaded to stay on and he has recruited plenty of unknown names to his cause.

“They’ve got lots of lads in from Middlesbrough and Newcastle who have just been released or on loan,” McMahon said, “They’ve had some good results since the start of the season… alright, they lost against Harrogate on Tuesday night, but they’ve started well and have experience too with [former Newcastle defender] Mike Williamson.”

Top scorer Luke Armstrong, one of those Middlesbrough loanees, has scored five goals in six games but he’s sat the last two games out with a hamstring problem. Also struggling for fitness are Williamson, young winger Cameron Salkeld (calf) and another experienced defender in player of the year Scott Barrow. Midfielder JJ O’Donnell, sent off against Maidstone, should return after completing his one-match ban.

Gateshead fielded two debutants in Tom Devitt and Elliot Forbes against Harrogate and they took the league leaders all the way, falling only to a late goal in a 3-2 reverse. Theirs is a predominantly young side but one that has gone about its business with eagerness so far this campaign after being prime candidates for relegation according to pre-season bookies’ odds.

To ease their defensive headaches, Gateshead have handed a one-year contract to Australian Mark McManus. He has been training with the club since the summer but has now thrashed out a deal to become their 14th signing since the end of last season.

The game will not be segregated so once again home fans can use the Swanscombe End and Gateshead fans are welcome in the Fleet social club. Please make use of Ebbsfleet International Car Park C at £3 for car-parking. Parking along Thames Way runs the risk of parking tickets.

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