Talk of meetings held and air cleared has been around the media this week in the wake of Fleet’s 4-1 defeat at the Racecourse. For Daryl McMahon, it was back to the matter in hand after that on Tuesday, namely the two games coming up at the Kuflink Stadium over the next few days and a chance for the Fleet to turn around a home record that has not made for the best reading.
The manager and players held a lengthy post-mortem after Wrexham and in his first opportunity to speak to the media following that, McMahon admitted it was his worst defeat as a manager. Of the words that have been said since, the Fleet boss was matter of fact about that.
“It happens, it’s never nice when it happens,” he told eufc.co.uk. “But across a season or 18 months, you tend to have moments at every single level of football from Champions League down, where there will be a game or a performance that you hope will be the catalyst to sort issues out. On Monday the players had a meeting between themselves which was important for them, then I had a meeting with the players in the afternoon and then we were back to work as normal on Tuesday. It’s a poor performance, we’ve seen those before and we will see them again. It’s how you react to them and how you get back to being yourself as soon as you can.
“It’s my worst run as a manager, not winning for four games,” he continued. “But that sort of run happens us all and we’ve got to focus because bad runs will get blown out of proportion. We have our own standards in the dressing room as a team and as a club. We want to win, we’re hungry to win, but we win together and lose together as a football club. I say that when we’re winning games and everything’s rosy and I say it now. From the owner, directors, fans, staff and players, we take success as one and we take defeat – unfortunately – as one. That makes it easier to bounce back and recover from the defeats. The minute you’re not as one, it becomes harder to get back to winning ways. I’ve been there in other clubs where that’s happened and that’s when things unravel.
“The last thing we need is individual effort. You don’t properly come out of bad times unless you do it together. It’s paramount we do that and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. It’s September, it’s been a poor month but we look at it realistically – we have to play better, we have to get more points, we’re hungry to do that and we never hide from that with the high expectation levels. Three-quarters of the clubs in this league have just as high expectation levels as we do and you have to accept that if you set high standards. We’re getting judged on our own standards, we’ve created them and set the bar as high as ever at this club and we have to live with that.”
The nature of recent performances came to a head last Saturday but McMahon was sure that was a low that can only and must be improved on.
“You’ve got to look at the Wrexham result in isolation,” McMahon said. “It was way below our level. We’ve been below par before that but not to that extent. Our ‘intermediate’ performances before Wrexham, you can argue we could still have got something out of those games but in that first half it was a poor, poor show from us, really poor, and we were never going to get anything the way we went about it.”
The next two games see opposition also experiencing indifferent form. Havant sit in the bottom four with two wins this season and McMahon knows his side will need more guile and sharpness to avoid a repeat of recent weeks.
“We’ll probably see two games in the style of many of the games this season,” McMahon said. “We’ll see plenty of the ball, they’ll sit deep and we’ve got to find a solution to break them down. Both Havant and Bromley have experienced defenders in their sides, big in defence, pacy in attack, so I imagine it will follow a similar pattern but we can’t afford to get sucked into that again.”
Skipper Dave Winfield is hurting and not just in the hamstring department, with the manager saying he’s desperate to get back in to help his teammates. “Dave’s exactly where he was last week. He tried to train but it didn’t quite work out. It wasn’t a major thing, he got to about 85% level and felt the hamstring again – he’ll try again as he wants to play Saturday because of what’s happened in the last week but I don’t need him out for six weeks. I need him back ASAP so if he misses Saturday, he’ll have a slightly better chance for Tuesday. If he doesn’t make that one either, I anticipate he’ll definitely be back for Dagenham.”
And now that Kenny Clark has returned, McMahon is eager to see his two centre-backs alongside each for the first time this season.
“Clarky didn’t train early on this week but he was back at it from Thursday, so he should be fine,” McMahon revealed. “That was a positive of last week, having him get through 90 minutes. The sooner the better when he’s fully up to speed and we can get Dave back into the team as well. Arguably, as a pairing, they can be two of the best central defenders in the division. When you take that out of the team and the leadership that gives you as well, it’s a big miss for us. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, the two of them will be back in harness together.”
A minor sickness bug also hit the Fleet camp this week but the manager downplayed that: “It was a little bug,” he said, “nothing major. Four or five players had it though only one missed training on Tuesday; everyone’s over that and they were all back at it on Thursday.”
Havant return to Northfleet for their first visit since a 7-0 defeat here in the FA Cup in 2016. Then newly relegated to the Bostik League, the club board kept faith with manager Lee Bradbury and he’s since won back-to-back titles and promotions. And he’s done it with a core of players who have been around since the club’s appearance in the play-offs the season before their relegation. That means it’s a very close-knit squad who have suffered and succeeded together.
Despite their lowly position, Havant went close to taking points from Harrogate and Sutton in the past two games and they’ve drawn against the likes of Boreham Wood, Salford City and AFC Fylde. Holding on to a lead appears to be their weakness and with Fleet’s propensity to give away early goals, both sides will be looking to eliminate their worst traits this season.
The visitors have injuries to midfielders Wes Fogden and Mike Carter, although former Burnley man and skipper Brian Stock has returned earlier than expected and Jordan Simpson has come in on loan from Forest Green Rovers. The Hawks tend to play with a back-three line and a lone striker, their top scorer Nicke Kabamba in attack with new signing Ibra Sekajja in support. Kabamba arrived from Portsmouth in the summer, having scored the goal on loan for Aldershot that almost knocked the Fleet out of last season’s play-offs. His strike partner Alfie Pavey, last season’s goal machine at Dartford, has been used from the bench in recent weeks.
Theo Lewis is a familiar face, having spent half a season at the Fleet in 2015 while there are a few ex-Gosport players that Nathan Ashmore will be on first-name terms with in the Havant ranks, the Fleet goalkeeper having also begun his career with the Hawks.
The game is not segregated. As ever, the club advise use of Ebbsfleet International Car Park C to avoid cars being ticketed on the roads around the stadium.