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PREVIEW: Kent calling for Kutrieb’s first county clash

After an absence of more than a year – and what a year it’s been for football! – Fleet and Maidstone United renew their county rivalry in tonight’s Vanarama National League South clash.

The clubs’ last meeting, back in March 2019, was a division higher as Fleet won it 2-0 but there’ll be precious few survivors from either side in tonight’s lineups, with only Stones’ Justin Amaluzor having played in the 2018/19 game.

For Dennis Kutrieb, it’s his first taste of a Kent derby although under current behind-closed-doors protocols, the impact of full-throated Fleet and Maidstone supporters getting behind their respective teams will have to wait for another day.

A keen contest it will remain, however, on the pitch with ex-Stones Jack Paxman (pictured), Bobby-Joe Taylor and Iffy Allen in the Fleet squad. The club’s medical staff will be monitoring the progress of Reece Grant, Ben Frempah and Taylor who all departed the pitch at Chippenham in varying degrees of pain but Fleet can welcome Charlie Rowan back from suspension.

Jordan Holmes and Adam Mekki, missing from the squad at the weekend, might also be considered while Josh Payne has also sat out recent matches with injury.

A hard-fought three points in terrible conditions at Chippenham kept Fleet in fifth place in the table, one point and one place above Maidstone. That win was Fleet’s third unbeaten on the road and Kutrieb’s men have lost just the once in 90 minutes across the whole season.

Across the dugouts will be Hakan Hayrettin, in sole charge of Maidstone since John Still’s departure in the summer. He has embarked on something of a rebuild over the long Covid-enforced break and has overseen four wins for the Stones so far this league campaign.

Like the Fleet, Maidstone exited the FA Cup on penalties and since then have racked up some notable wins in the NLS, including 4-1 over Hemel Hempstead Town and 6-0 against Concord Rangers.

Former Woking, Aldershot and Eastleigh striker Scott Rendell has been helping in the goals department while ex-Dagenham striker Joan Luque – a teammate last season of Will Wood and James Dobson – has also given the visitors’ front line a shot in the arm.

Indeed there are relationships between the players across the pitch. Other than the likes of ex-Stones Paxman, Taylor and Allen, Fleet’s Holmes and Maidstone full-back Charlie Seaman were at Bournemouth together while Adam Mekki and Jake Goodman played with George Porter at Bromley.

Hayrettin kept hold of a number of key players over the summer, with skipper George Elokobi, full-back Gavin Hoyte, midfielders Sam Corne and Saidou Khan added to Amaluzor in the retentions department.

Khan is an injury doubt for Hayrettin, as is promising summer signing and full-back Raphe Brown, but the Stones have ample cover in Noah Chesmain there. Midfielder Zihni Temelci, who impressed at the Gallagher last season, is also back in amber and black having had to return home during the last lockdown.

Maidstone embark on their second Kent derby in a few days, having lost late on 2-0 at home to Dartford on Saturday, their second league defeat following a 1-0 reverse at Chelmsford.

With things still tight at the top, a win for either side tonight in a full league programme could see second place achieved depending on other results.

Maidstone haven’t won any of the last four Kent derbies against the Fleet but previous to that, of course, won both the league visit and the promotion final here in 2015/16. Those days are long gone but the rivalry continues and another chapter begins tonight.

Supporters can get livestream access now for £9.99 via our platform here. Season-ticket holders will have received codes yesterday (Monday) – please check your codes in the second email received – you can enter the codes ahead of kick-off which we would suggest you do as early as possible in case of any issues.

Season-ticket holders will also be emailed their free digital programme and a free download link will be provided for streaming customers on screen ahead of kick-off.

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