Fleet may have had an unexpected bonus weekend to rest and recuperate following the postponement of the weekend fixture at FC Halifax Town but Garry Hill would hardly call it a rest after travelling all the way there and back across two days.
“I was very, very disappointed,” he said. “I was aware there was a pitch inspection to be arranged on the Friday morning. I was aware that had taken place with a local referee; he said he thought the pitch was playable as far as he was concerned.
“We travelled up that day as arranged, it was raining all the way up there. I was led to believe the match referee had been given notification on the Saturday morning that the pitch had been checked again and it was all good. But the pitch was nowhere near playable in terms of puddles and standing water in various places when we got there at 1 o’clock. The ball was dropping in the centre circle and didn’t bounce an inch.”
Any suggestions that the Fleet boss might have preferred to return to The Shay at a later date with a fuller squad of players were instantly dismissed by Hill who said the inconvenience of it all, coupled with the fact he goes into tonight’s clash with Maidenhead with three suspended players still, cancelled any perceived benefit from a postponement.
“When you take into consideration our journey up there, the money it’s cost and the general inconvenience, we wanted to play it,” he confirmed. “But I feel the referee was disappointed and shocked as was I that the situation was what it was.
“He gave them until 1.45 to see if there was an improvement in the conditions sufficient so he could make a decision. But it wasn’t happening – Halifax were understandably keen for the game to go ahead, they were fully aware we were short on bodies. But I didn’t want it called off either – the financial plight of going up there for us, an overnight stop and what have you, didn’t make it easier to call the game off. We’ve still got the same injuries and suspensions going into Tuesday, so a postponement did neither side any favours really.”
While Fleet might have had a rest from 90 minutes of football, visitors Maidenhead will be buoyant after doing to Sutton what Sutton did to us only a few weeks ago – that is, scoring a winner in the 94th minute.
That three points – with 10-man Maidenhead dominating for most of the second half – effectively renders the Magpies safe for another season in the National League but they’ll be keen to put some more points on the board just in case.
“Alan Devonshire’s a good manager and a good man,” Hill said of his opposite number, the two having started out down the management path during the Nineties. “He’s got them out of trouble. They’re pulling away, they’ve had some great results, certainly away from home. They won at Chesterfield, had a very good win at Orient, so we know it’s a tough game. We’ve got a week here with two home games and we can hopefully get back to playing our best and getting two good results.”
Dean Rance and Chris Bush complete suspensions, while Andy Drury is also out with the first of his two-match ban. The cut-off point for suspensions for 10 yellow cards also concludes tonight so if Fleet can get through without upsetting the referee, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Hill after a harsh few weeks in terms of personnel.
But Maidenhead boast the second worst disciplinary record in the division, behind Maidstone United, with 60 cautions and eight red cards. Their latest red came on Saturday for loanee Wrexham striker Mike Fondop so he will sit this one out.
Midfielder Adrian Clifton, top scorer with 12 goals, is often deployed as a striker and could partner former Chester forward James Akintunde up top.
Centre-back Alfie Kilgour has returned to parent club Bristol Rovers and former Eastleigh defender Ayo Obileye returned to the side to cover for him on Saturday. And there will be no danger of a repeat from the man who scored the free-kick equaliser against the Fleet at York Road earlier this season, Brentford’s Reece Cole having switched loan arrangements and he is now turning out for Macclesfield Town instead.
None of which has weakened the Magpies whose recent run of form has seen them transformed from relegation candidates to survival experts. They have lost only one of their last six National League games with wins over Boreham Wood, Leyton Orient, Dover Athletic and Sutton United in that period. And games they have lost to high-flyers such as Solihull Moors, AFC Fylde and Wrexham have only been by the odd goal.
Much like the Fleet of late, however, the Magpies aren’t hitting the back of the net with any real regularity, having scored more than a single goal in a game only once since the turn of the year.
The last three fixtures between the sides have ended as 1-1 draws – Michael Cheek (pictured above scoring in the last one) –and Fleet will be looking to improve on a generally poor home record that has seen us win only three of nine games against Maidenhead on our own soil.
The match is not segregated. Car-parking is available at Ebbsfleet International Station Car Park C for £3. This is the best option for parking near the stadium. Local businesses are continuing to contact us to warn they will clamp cars parked on or blocking private property. Drivers should not block areas around Watling Tyres, In-Car Wash (Grove Road), the Ebbsfleet Business Park and the Lower Road Industrial Estate. Furthermore, drivers are warned that parking on the Thames Way clearway near the roundabout runs the risk of being ticketed.