The crunch period for the Fleet was always going to come against the sides in the leading positions with so many of them still to face off against Garry Hill’s side – and the club’s first ever visit to Harrogate Town is next in store as the remorseless and unforgiving progress of the National League continues apace.
The challenge against the promoted high-flyers was always a tough one but Fleet’s small squad has been reduced further by the losses of Dean Rance (one match) and Bagasan Graham (three matches). With Ebou Adams and Myles Weston poised to take their places, the first eleven is not necessarily any less strong – but the manager will have a job on his hands filling the bench.
Into the squad will likely come midfielder Freddy Moncur whose league outings this season have been restricted to two appearances off the bench v Eastleigh and at Braintree, while he also showed some decent qualities against Tonbridge in the Kent Senior Cup. Another call-up is Academy player Arif Omar, who will wear squad no.21. The right-sided wide player originally signed a contract after appearing as a substitute in the Kent Senior Cup against Bromley last season. This season, the promising youngster caught the eye in the same competition with rather longer shifts at Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, playing at right-back and as wing-back.
Omar has trained with the first-team this week and the manager praised the player’s desire.
“He’s shown in training some very encouraging signs,” said Hill, who watched Omar’s performance at Tonbridge. “The club’s not used young talent or had much of it coming through to the first team for a long period so this is a great reward for Danny Kedwell. And for the young players in the academy side this season and next, it’s a very good incentive for them going forward.”
With Omar and Moncur included in the trip north, that should prevent Fleet from starting a few men short on the bench, though Hill will be keen that any other players nearing suspension hold off on obtaining cards for a little longer. The cut-off point for 10 yellow cards (a two-match suspension) is 37 league games which will be mid-March given the Fleet’s current schedule.
For the first-ever visit to the CNG Stadium and its 3G surface, Fleet will be facing a Harrogate side perhaps a little less consistent than earlier in the season, but no less of a threat for that. Town sit in the final play-off position, six points above the Fleet and with a game in hand – a similar comparison as when Fleet were last on the road against Sutton United.
Harrogate eased to a 2-0 win at the Kuflink Stadium in atrocious conditions in October though they recorded seven of their eight defeats this season since that match. Most recently, they needed two goals in the last three minutes to overcome Dover at Crabble and have seen four reverses, all to the tune of 2-1, against Eastleigh, FC Halifax, AFC Fylde and Sutton United; moreover, Stockport sent them crashing out of the FA Trophy.
Nonetheless, Town’s home record has seen them win eight and lose just three games and an average gate of 1,700 is enjoying life at this level. A win over the Fleet would be their third consecutive victory. Simon Weaver’s side have recruited winger Dylan Mottley-Henry on loan from Barnsley, while full-back Jack Senior has come in from Luton Town. Striker Jordan Thewlis is out with a long-term injury while midfielder Lloyd Kerry faces a late fitness test, although he trained this week.
There’s plenty of goals in the Town lineup with former AFC Fylde man Jack Muldoon leading the way on 11. Former Eastleigh centre-back Callum Howe, who scored at the Kuflink Stadium, contributes plenty of headers from set pieces while front men Aaron Williams, Mark Beck and Dominic Knowles are all capable of causing damage.
Having viewed footage of Fleet’s clash with Solihull last week, Town manager Weaver unsurprisingly quoted the word “battle” in his expectations for this weekend. “We’ve got to be brave on the ball and more physical,” he said. “We’re playing well in spasms but there’s been some sloppiness and a tendency to pass the buck.”
• The match will be unsegregated and Fleet fans can gain entry to the ground via any open turnstile on Wetherby Road. The turnstiles and the club’s 1919 Venue will be open pre-match for supporters to enjoy a drink and live TV football from 1.00pm. 1919 Venue will be serving real/guest ales and other refreshments. There is no car-parking at the ground but it is available at Kingswood doctor’s surgery on Wetherby Road, 80 yards from the ground, for a fee of £3.
•• Supporters can save £2 on matchday entry by booking tickets online at https://www.harrogatetownafc.com/match/tickets/