It was Month #2 of the new season and already the reality was sinking in for management, players and fans alike with the defeat at home to Aldershot Town meaning the squad were ordered in for Sunday training as September dawned.
With a far-from-settled squad, Garry Hill continued in his efforts to strengthen and Bondz N’Gala’s brief stay was ended, AFC Bournemouth loanee Tyler Cordner joining on a four-month loan in his place, the fourth signing in 10 days. N’Gala’s four games were his only football of the season as he didn’t join another club after departing the Kuflink Stadium.
Another player soon to depart was fan favourite Sean Shields. Although he’d earned minutes in pre-season, he’d been handed just the one start in the National League and a season-long loan to Notts County was the surprise result for a player whose Fleet career had more often than not been punctuated by loan moves but who nevertheless remained a popular performer.
Fleet kicked-off September with an improved performance as Dover missed a penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at Crabble and it was the same result in a home clash v Eastleigh, Alex Reid scoring his first goal for the club.
The first home win was proving elusive, Fleet dominant in spells against Eastleigh but denied the chance of a second goal when what looked like a nailed-on penalty was instead deemed by the referee to be a dive by Myles Weston and he was booked to the incredulity of most inside the ground. Typical of Fleet’s luck, the Spitfires then conjured up an equaliser as two points went begging.
The next game was arguably the most difficult of the campaign to date, away at surprise leaders Woking. Hill’s return to his former club seemed to be heading the way of most of the other games, Fleet 2-0 down with seven minutes to play despite Jordan Holmes watching a penalty – the fifth he’d faced in his short tenure – come back off the crossbar.
But Reid notched what seemed a consolation before Weston’s inch-perfect free-kick in time added on grabbed the most unlikely of 2-2 draws to send Fleet fans home in the nearest to delirium they’d experienced thus far in 2019/20. “It’s a few draws,” Hill said after the game, “but when you come from five straight defeats and all of a sudden you’ve lost one in six, you’re going [the right] way. I think there’s common sense at the football club and at the end of the day, it’s a results business.”
The problem Fleet were facing was that one or two hard-fought draws were being followed by poor performances and an inability to keep a clean sheet. That was never more the case than when Barrow, then still considered a relegation rival, came to town, put in a virtuoso performance, scored some great goals and went home with what seemed a relatively simple 3-0 victory.
That Jekyll & Hyde nature to Fleet games continued into the next appearance a few days later when the Kuflink Stadium finally greeted a victory, Hill’s men shocking Barnet with a sublime 3-0 win, quickfire first-half efforts by Weston and Reid putting the game beyond the Bees before Ayo Obileye wrapped it up late on.
“I think we’ve been on top in a few games like that,” said midfielder James Ball, “where you’re dying for something to click. Eventually it will but we’re 12 games into the season, 13 now, and you start thinking, when’s it going to click. Tonight everything came together.”
September concluded with a big six-pointer at Wrexham, the Welsh side having parted ways with manager Bryan Hughes and replaced him temporarily with ex-national boss Brian Flynn. On a 10-match winless run, Wrexham might have had a breakthrough on the hour when a fairly innocuous shirt-tug in the Fleet box produced a penalty but spot-kick master Holmes pushed away Bobby Grant’s attempt.
But it wasn’t to be two clean sheets in a row for the Fleet as Paul Rutherford’s decent effort from distance 15 minutes from time produced that familiar feeling of dejection. Coupled with assistant manager Ian Hendon’s abrupt departure on the eve of the Wrexham game, the month of September – much like August – had produced some odd good moments but left lots more questions unanswered with 14 games of the season already gone.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE MONTH: Myles Weston’s injury-time free-kick that completed a seven-minute comeback away at league leaders Woking after they had held a 2-0 lead with only seven minutes remaining.
LOW POINT OF THE MONTH: It was a toss-up between the ease with which Barrow walked away from Kent with three goals and three points or the late defeat to fellow strugglers Wrexham.
THE STATE OF PLAY: With 14 games gone, Fleet were in exactly the same position as they had been at the end of August – four points from safety, in 23rd place. Chorley propped up the division while Chesterfield and Aldershot shared the relegation spots.