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PREVIEW: Havant & Waterlooville

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If there’s one place to make a stand near the end of a testing campaign, it’s a place with ‘Waterloo’ in the title – but Fleet must hope it’s not a final stand and they need three points this Good Friday to avoid the season effectively finishing at Westleigh Park.

Garry Hill had plenty to say following Saturday’s home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge and he knows his side can’t afford a repeat of that flat performance if they are to stand any chance of catching Eastleigh or Harrogate Town.

The manager kept faith with the players who had performed superbly to get the Fleet into the reckoning over recent weeks and, while he said he wouldn’t be making any “rash decisions” in the wake of Saturday’s defeat, he will surely have pondered on changes as his squad got back to work on the training ground.

The boss praised the contributions of Andy Drury and Danny Kedwell for their second-half performances but with the Cheek-Ugwu combination having paid such rich dividends prior to Saturday, who’s to say the 1-0 home defeat was nothing more than a bad day at the office? The answer to that will likely arrive upon production of Friday’s teamsheet.

Havant has always been a tricky venue for the Fleet with only one win in our last four there, although with the Hawks’ relegation confirmed last weekend it does – on paper – remove the interest from the game somewhat as far as the home side are concerned.

Not that Havant’s lack of need for points should be any reason to assume they won’t be fired up. Dagenham didn’t particularly need the points last Saturday and were lively enough throughout that game!

Havant manager Lee Bradbury has run the full gamut of emotions in recent seasons – from seeing his side unexpectedly relegated into the Bostik League, to winning that title straight away and then sealing promotion from the National South in the last minute of last season, to now being relegated again in the Hawks’ first ever campaign at this level… it’s the very definition of a rollercoaster ride.

Never higher than 17th place this season, it’s been an uphill struggle for Bradbury’s squad which comprises many of the players relegated to and promoted from the Bostik Premier. And after falling into the bottom four in February, the form of Maidenhead and Dover has kept Havant firmly marooned in 21st place.

Their own poor form hasn’t helped, with only one win in 13 attempts sealing their fate. Of their nine wins this season, only one – versus Barrow – has come against a team in the top half of the table and their 7-0 thrashing of Maidenhead on Halloween Eve must seem like a very long time ago.

The last action at Westleigh Park saw the Hawks push Fleet’s rivals Harrogate all the way, only to fall to a late goal that could yet prove the difference in the play-off race. And they showed plenty of mettle at title hopefuls Solihull last weekend, losing only to a last-minute Moors goal.

One thing Fleet will have to be mindful of is a lively Havant attack – with Nathan Ashmore lining up against his former club and a couple of ex-Gosport teammates as well. The Hawks are the highest scorers in the bottom half of the table (even despite losing Nicke Kabamba to Hartlepool and Alfie Pavey to Dover) and have managed only one less than ourselves. Alfie Rutherford is the danger man with 13 goals this season while Matt Paterson has a good record against the Fleet and former Jamie Day signing Theo Lewis is one of several midfielders on four goals.

For all their qualities in attack, however, the Havant defence has been their weak link this season, conceding 77 goals – only Braintree have a worse showing in the goals-against column.

Havant have pre-deadline signing from Rotherham Laurence Bilboe in goal, with loanee Martija Sarkic recalled to Aston Villa. Ibra Sekajja departed to Gosport around the same time and the Hawks secured young right-back Danny McNamara on loan from Millwall, the player having also turned out for Dover this season. Former Maidstone, Bromley and Boreham Wood striker Joe Quigley scored his second goal for the club on Saturday and another familiar face is former Whitehawk defender Jordan Rose.

Michael Cheek scored his first goal for the Fleet in the fixture against Havant at the Kuflink Stadium back in October (pictured above) in an otherwise disappointing 1-1 draw.

Directions to Havant & Waterlooville FC can be found here.

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