When the small matter of 19 points separated leaders Bromley and the Fleet shortly after Christmas, you would have struggled to find a bookie that wouldn’t have paid out on Steve Brown’s side having no chance of overturning the all-conquering Lillywhites.
But the Fleet’s superb form in recent weeks (they currently top the form table), coupled with a torrid spell for Bromley and something of a stutter at Eastleigh, has prompted talk of a title race once again. Such talk, however, is not swaying Brown from the task in hand – though he admits he can’t resist a look at the league table following a decent result.
“All we can do is take each game as they come,” he told FleetOnline. “We see who’s fit and available and put together a team to do its very best to put another three points on the board. And if we do, I’ll have another cheeky look at the league table and see where we sit.”
The boss is still talking up Eastleigh’s chances – little surprise since they have a potential 10-point advantage over the Fleet should they win their two games in hand – but Brown has been delighted with his side’s response since they lost 3-1 at Silverlake Stadium. “The players have shown a great desire to put results on the board since that loss,” he said. “We’ve accumulated 17 points from a possible 21, keeping four clean sheets in the process. We can’t do anymore than we are doing at present.”
A first-ever visit to Whitehawk’s Enclosed Ground is a lot trickier than it looks on paper against a side once fancied for promotion, but who are battling the drop. “It’s another tough game,” Brown said. “They have a new manager in Steve King who is busy constructing a squad to maintain Skrill South status and they will all be very keen to win a contract for next season.
“The pitch and conditions will play a part and we know what to expect from a Steve King side. We must turn up with the right attitude and put in the same amount of commitment and work rate that we did against Tonbridge on Tuesday night.”
Having recently been questioned about the embarrassment of riches at his disposal across the back line, Brown’s defensive recruitment is looking like a sensible piece of business following Anthony Acheampong’s hamstring injury on Tuesday night. With Paul Lorraine still suffering an ankle injury and Shane Huke just back in training, it is likely that only Osei Sankofa and Yado Mambo will be fit for the weekend. Mambo came through half an hour against Tonbridge in midweek and is eager for his first start since his well-documented injury problems threatened to curtail his football career.
Michael Thalassitis is pushing for a starting place up front after two substitute appearances yielded no ill effects while in other player news, Stacy Long looks set – subject to paperwork – to extend a final month on loan at Eastbourne.
A fight for survival is not what Skrill South new boys Whitehawk had planned for their debut season at this level. A summer recruitment that saw an influx of proven players including striker Danny Mills, former Gillingham and Dartford defender Richard Rose, ex-Fleet striker Jacob Erskine and experienced Brighton winger Jake Robinson turned sour after a poor start and Rose and Erskine left along with a number of other players.
Whitehawk also sacked two players in mid-season following a match-fixing scandal and more recently manager Darren Freeman lost his job after a run of results that saw not a single home league win between September and Steve King’s appointment in February.
King has overseen two wins and two defeats since taking over and has bolstered the squad. This week he added striker Waide Fairhurst from Lincoln plus Tottenham goalkeeper Jonathan Miles on loan, while ex-Fleet midfielder Ashley Carew has moved temporarily from Dover, as has Kieron Forbes from Forest Green and experienced front man Dean McDonald has joined from Margate. Jason St Juste, a pacy left-sided player with experience at Darlington, and who played alongside Theo Walcott at Southampton, has also put pen to paper on a deal.
Add Robinson and the 12-goal Danny Mills to that front mix and Whitehawk certainly have attacking options. They will, however, be without on-loan Dominic Green since Fleet – as his parent club – have not allowed him to play on Saturday.
Whitehawk lost 3-1 at Stonebridge Road in November (pictured above) after taking an early lead in the clubs’ first-ever meeting but hosting the Fleet on home turf doesn’t necessarily give them the upper hand as a ratio of just two home wins to five away victories illustrates. That said, with King keen to reshape his squad while battling for survival, Fleet will need to perform at least as well as they did at Longmead on Tuesday to keep pressure on the leading two.
Fleet: W – W – W – D – W – W
Whitehawk: L – L – W – W – L – L