Fleet will attempt to wrestle back advantage in the title race with a visit to a club who at one stage not so long ago were better placed to challenge Maidenhead than ourselves. With Clarence Park the destination, Fleet will be hoping to repeat their early-season heroics there of 2015/16 when Danny Kedwell and Kenny Clark came up with the goods in a 2-0 win.
Dean Rance sits out the final game of his two-match suspension and with Dave Winfield sidelined after his injury against East Thurrock United, Fleet could be struggling to fill the fifth place on the bench with Casey Johnson or one of the other ex-Academy players in the frame for a squad place. That should leave little room for surprises in a line-up that has been largely unchanged since January, coinciding with Fleet’s unbeaten league run this year. Indeed a win at St Albans would equal Fleet’s superb run at the start of last season.
On paper, the visit to St Albans always looked like one of Fleet’s tougher remaining away tests although in contrast to their visitors, Ian Allinson’s side have been in freefall since Christmas. The exit of Junior Morias to Peterborough United, plus the return to Stevenage of loan pair Ryan Johnson and Dipo Akinyeme, were obvious blows but Allinson recruited robustly in January and it’s certainly a surprise that St Albans’ season has unwound so quickly.
Several 18-month contracts were handed to new signings that included former Fleet loanee Jack Saville and ex-Dartford full-back Tom Gardiner, whose last game against the Fleet was the New Year’s Day North Kent derby, while up front the Saints have taken Charlie Walker from Aldershot Town and veteran hotshot Jamie Cureton on board.
These were all very solid signings but Allinson has thus far been unable to get the best out of them, with City now 10 points off the play-off pace having played two games more. They have lost four of their last five matches and won only one in 13 in all competitions. To arrest the decline, Allinson has warned his players they are performing for their futures and has drafted in two more loanees in defence this week, Northern Ireland U19 international Nathan Kerr from Stevenage and Ipswich youngster Joe Robinson.
The manager has also this week released a trio of long-term players in Lee Chappell, Ben Martin and Sam Corcoran, the latter having only returned to the club a few weeks ago from Hemel Hempstead. Star striker Louie Theophanous, meanwhile, has found game time hard to come by of late amidst rumours of a loan move for him.
It is clear that it’s all change at Clarence Park and that Allinson is demanding a turnaround in form, something the Fleet must be wary of as their hosts have little to lose and everything to gain going into this game. Whatever happens, it’s unlikely Fleet will get quite the head-start they enjoyed at Stonebridge Road earlier this season when Sam Deering scored his memorable goal from the halfway line seconds after kick-off. The Saints were above the Fleet in third place that day, but two Deering goals and another from Darren McQueen in the first 25 minutes rocked the visitors, whose only consolation was a second-half goal.
Fleet’s record at Clarence Park is a good one, with six wins there in the last seven outings and there has never been a draw between the two sides in nine matches there.