Garry Hill may be down to bare bones but his message ahead of the visit of pre-season title favourites Salford City is clear: “Don’t panic!” Suspensions will leave the Fleet boss with roughly the same number of bodies as he had at Barrow last week, with Bagasan Graham back but Chris Bush out, and it’s a team that now virtually picks itself.
“So I was going to make the fifth place on the bench up myself last week but I had a bit of a tummy upset!” the Fleet boss joked. “But there’s absolutely no panicking here. The lack of numbers, it does limit your options of course. But the eleven we put out there, it’s still very strong and it’s been getting some very respectable points lately.”
Hill knows as well as anyone that his side needs some relief and he’s been busy all week in that regard. “We’re trying to strengthen, of course we are,” he said. “But I’m not one to put out statements guaranteeing we’ll have a player by a certain date or we won’t. It’s hard with the EFL clubs effectively shut in terms of the transfer window so they understandably don’t want to leave themselves short by letting us have the players we want. It’s a risk for us playing young kids who don’t know the league or signing players for the sake of it and it’s not something I’ve ever made a habit of doing.
“We approach everything we do long-term off the pitch. The people working behind the scenes are doing an unbelievable job and we’re getting there, I’m very pleased with what we’ve achieved so far to get the club on an even keel.
“The number-one thing I take from everything since we’ve been here – and what I hope supporters take on board too – regardless of where we finish the season: we had 23 points and were four off relegation. We’re now in contention at the other end and we’re only four points off the play-offs. What we’re achieving so far, we’re very pleased with.”
Salford’s squad size dwarfs the Fleet’s with the National North champions naming 33 registered players (albeit some of those youth teamers) but Hill sees no reason for his players to be in awe of that.
“They can only play 11, same as us,” he said. “We’ll make them welcome and we’ll try our very best. Of course it will be hard, they have a lot of talent at their disposal even if they have had a poor couple of results lately. The pressure is on them and we’ll just do what we’ve been doing. We keep our heads down. We’ve got suspensions, others near to the 10 cards that we’d like to get to the cut-off date. We keep fighting and battling on.We won’t feel sorry for ourselves.
“And look, we’ve been doing well. Barrow only lost one in 14, Harrogate were in the play-offs. Hartlepool hadn’t failed to score for a few months and were in a rich vein of form and we saw off Leyton Orient. It’s not been a bad points haul all things considered.”
A bad points haul is exactly what the visitors are attempting to reverse, however. Salford’s form since December has seen them tumble out of the title race pole position. Their excellent 3-0 win over rivals Orient aside, the Ammies have struggled for points and have lost to Dagenham, Wrexham, Barrow, Braintree, Dover and Eastleigh in quick succession. Indeed Eastleigh, who Fleet brushed aside 3-0 here after Christmas, have now leapfrogged Graham Alexander’s side in the top six.
Five points separate Salford from the Fleet, though the Manchester side have a game in hand, and that’s a far cry from the last meeting in October when City topped the table as Daryl McMahon’s team came away with a hard-earned point.
For their first visit to the Kuflink Stadium, Salford have a couple of injury concerns. Loanee Dennis Politic, who scored an excellent goal against Dover two weeks ago, missed out last week and marquee signing and top scorer Adam Rooney has sat out recent games. Should the 18-goal former Aberdeen forward not make it, Salford have 11-goal Rory Gaffney who scored against the Fleet at the Peninsula Stadium. They have also recently drafted in Matt Green: he has quite a colourful history against the Fleet having scored six goals against us in the past for Oxford United and Mansfield Town while having also been sent off here back in 2012.
Midfielder Amine Linganzi is another new face, the Congo international having played for clubs including Saint Etienne, Blackburn and Gillingham.
Salford have won six and lost six of their 17 games on the road this season and they desperately need to make that seven victories to relieve pressure on boss Alexander. It’s something they managed to do earlier in the season after a rocky start to life in the National League which was soon turned around as the Ammies soared to the summit. They have a lot of work to do to get back there but Fleet will need to ensure the Kuflink Stadium is not the springboard for a Salford revival.
The match is segregated and Salford City have been allocated the Swanscombe End – they should follow AWAY SUPPORTERS signs to the turnstiles. 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 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.