Amidst talk of restructuring behind the scenes, there is still a football match going ahead at the Kuflink Stadium this Saturday and Daryl McMahon is determined to win it as he goes head to head against Worthing with a slimmed-down staff complement on the bench.
Aaron McLean, Michael Jordan and Stacy Long will be in the dugout as Fleet look to reach the First Round of the Emirates FA Cup in successive seasons. Standing in their way are Bostik Premier promotion hopefuls Worthing, who have won all three of their qualifying rounds away from home.
With prize money of £25,000 at stake as a result of a more generous sponsorship deal for the grand old competition, there’s even more incentive for a First Round place, though just the prospect of potential League opposition is usually enough to entice fans.
“We’ve watched Worthing a couple of times,” McMahon told eufc.co.uk. “They’re doing well and like any winning team, when they come and play in an FA Cup game, they’re always tough games. In this competition and the Trophy, we’ve been on the end of a couple of results, games you’d expect us to win where we haven’t over the three years. So we’ll be taking the game very seriously.”
The timing of the Cup has also come at a good time for the boss, who admits he’s looking forward to the game. “It is a relief from the league if I’m honest,” he said. “A different competition, a different pressure. There’s a little more freedom to the game – we’re likely not going to win the FA Cup. But I’m looking forward to it, I think it’s a game at home that you want to perform in and win as the rewards are obvious. But I’m sure they’ll give us a stern test and we’ve got to be ready to hit our level, to focus, and not worry about anything else but what we’re about.”
Despite the defeat at Solihull to continue Fleet’s poor run of form, McMahon is convinced his side will turn things around. “It was the story of our season so far,” he said. “The commitment and the effort was there and I can’t knock the players for that. It will turn – we’re doing the right things but you get errors and missed chances which happen across a season… unfortunately for us, they’re accumulating altogether at the same time.
“The message I want to send out is these players want to perform for themselves, for me, the club and the fans – that’s unquestionable. And it will be again Saturday.”
Myles Weston and Ebou Adams returned in midweek from their international travels, though Adams had a second international match on Tuesday and his return flight was a case of “trains, planes and automobiles” according to McMahon.
“Westy flew back in Sunday night so he trained again from Tuesday,” McMahon said. “Ebou played Tuesday night – the travelling is tiring, Gambia, Togo, then back to Gambia and then it’s not direct so he goes via Holland and elsewhere. It’s trains, planes and automobiles just to get him home!”
Fleet have other options in midfield with the return of Jack Payne from Eastleigh on loan and McMahon has been pleased with the condition in which the former Gillingham and Blackpool player has returned.
“Jack needed to get out and have that run of games at Eastleigh,” he said. “That’s the reason we loaned him out. I know there was criticism when he went out but the situation when he left for a month was that we’d just beaten Aldershot, Eastleigh and Barnet, three wins in a row, and the players in the starting eleven were in form.
“His month away then coincided with a bad month for us when he obviously wasn’t playing for us, but the loan suited everyone at the time. He’s been out and got that month of football in him rather than sitting on the sidelines and he’s now come back in and I hope he’ll have a big part to play for us this season.”
Visitors Worthing have improved vastly from last season’s mid-table finish, just a point off the top of the Bostik Premier and have just lost one game (to Margate) in league and cup outings this season. They knocked Chelmsford City out of the FA Cup and have real ambitions for National League South football.
Manager Adam Hinshelwood, a former Brighton defender, is in his second spell with the Rebels and has moulded a squad with a couple of veterans from Bognor Regis Town’s promotion push, some promising ex-Brighton youngsters and others. There aren’t too many familiar faces amongst the visiting squad but there are a couple of familiar names as they do have a Miles, a Clarke and a Rance!
Defender Sam Rents played at Stonebridge Road for Whitehawk in the 2016 play-off semi-final and player-coach Aarran Racine skippered Forest Green at Wembley in their play-off final of the same year, having played for Rovers against the Fleet in the 2015 FA Trophy.
The danger man is attacking wide player David Ajiboye with eight goals this season. On-loan striker Zack Newton from Welling is cup-tied, centre-half Alfie Young injured and former Whitehawk goalkeeper Lucas Covolan has broken his arm. Worthing had to play 16-year-old Aaron Relf in goal last weekend in their 3-1 win over Kingstonian as they continued to seek a loan goalkeeper. Relf will likely play again unless a new signing is made, though former Hibs and Welling stopper Kleton Perntreou was linked with the club.
It’s 19 years since Worthing made the first round – and also 19 years since they last played the Fleet, losing 2-0 at Stonebridge Road in the FA Trophy.
If it’s omens you’re looking for, one the Fleet might prefer is our record FA Cup run in 1962/63 – the fourth qualifying round tie then was also a team from Sussex at home.
- The Emirates FA Cup tie is an all-pay game with season tickets not accepted. There is a £1 charge for U12s. Ebbsfleet International Car Park C is advised for parking at £3 and is only a short walk from the ground. The match is not segregated.