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Season Review Part 1: The summer

A summer of immense change at the club lay ahead once 2018/19 had been put to bed, Fleet having made a titanic effort to gatecrash the play-offs for a second season running but coming up just short following an indifferent final month to the season.

The squad retention, as expected given the announcements about financial reorganisation, was minimal and only those players still on extended contracts survived the cull.

Fleet boss Garry Hill had long spoken of a fresh start but the pressures to quickly reinforce a now small squad would occupy his thinking through May, June and July following his only holiday of the summer, a trip to watch his Spurs favourites take on Liverpool in the Champions League Final.

That squad got even smaller when Michael Cheek, Ebou Adams and Corey Whitely departed to Bromley, Forest Green Rovers and Newport County respectively. Cheek went almost immediately in mid-May and the other pair within a week of each other in late June with all of the contracted players having been given 30 days to find new clubs.

The first man in – Ayo Obileye – and only a blue scarf to hand!

Hill’s summer business began in the first week of June with Ayo Obileye and Aswad Thomas, two signings greeted optimistically by Fleet fans who had been worried the club would no longer attract players with National League experience.

Hill’s target list included numerous familiar names from League Two and the National League but it became increasingly difficult to land them as rival clubs proved better attractions for many.

Ugwu
The Go Team! Gozie was back for a third spell.

Slowly but surely, however, the Fleet squad grew in numbers. Gozie Ugwu’s third return to the Kuflink Stadium was next, followed by Alex Lawless, Jamie Grimes and the unexpected return of Myles Weston who was the only one of three players to accept reduced terms after Danny Kedwell and Jack Payne moved to the South Coast.

A number of trialists were on hand as Fleet won 4-3 at K Sports in the friendly opener, youngster Tahjae Anderson scoring there and in the draw at Dartford but failing to land a deal. Striker David Moyo from St Albans was a trialist with promise but he also wasn’t brought back and ended up at Hamilton Academical.

Alfie Egan was trialed in midfield at Dartford before Hill then made a signing that excited many, James Ball arriving from Stevenage. Another trialist who didn’t make the cut was Tomi Adeloye but he would make his presence felt for the club later in the season.

Home friendlies produced a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur U23s and a very encouraging 2-1 defeat of Charlton Athletic, Obileye proving his knack for a goal with a couple of refreshing displays.

New boy Goddard in action in an entertaining win over a strong Charlton side

Signings continued to drift in, John Goddard, Harry Palmer and Josh Umerah in place as Hill’s work-in-progress gained a 1-1 draw at Hemel Hempstead and a 3-1 win over Brighton’s U23s.

Academy pair Mathew Achuba and Zach Dainkeh brought the numbers up and at the end of a trying spring and summer, there was cautious optimism amongst many that a side with experience at National League level coupled with an unbeaten pre-season could hit the ground running.

More new faces as James Ball and Aswad Thomas get stuck into Brighton

Hill knew his squad makeup was by no means the finished article with 18 players including the injured Cody McDonald but he seemed relieved to have the bulk of the summer recruitment process out of the way.

“That’s where we are,” he said as summer ended. “I’m happy with what we’ve had to do and what we’ve got. I think the squad and the club needed refreshing for this season and I’m pleased overall with what we’re going into Saturday with.

“We’ve got experienced players, very good professionals with good characters on and off the pitch and that’s a massive thing. Even though the numbers are small, we have an adaptable squad… we’re not quite there yet.”

Jack King, Lawrie Wilson and Alex Lawless were announced as team, club and vice captain respectively as the Kuflink Stadium prepared to host FC Halifax Town to launch what would be a season like no other…

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