Fleet go into Saturday’s clash at basement club Staines Town desperate to turn around a run of four games without a win. Last week’s home reverse at the hands of Hayes & Yeading aside, Steve Brown’s side have created a raft of chances – but haven’t converted them. That is the absolute minimum requirement the boss has set his side for this weekend’s visit to Wheatsheaf Park, where last season (pictured) the Fleet were denied three points by a last-minute equaliser.
“We have to go to Staines and, in my opinion, win the game,” Brown said, with one eye on the table even at this stage of the season, where Basingstoke – who are at home to Chelmsford – have a six-point advantage over the Fleet and a game in hand.
With Alex Osborn back in contention for a place to give Brown more options from the bench, the Fleet manager is also monitoring Matt Godden’s knee injury that he picked up in training. Joe Howe’s suspension, meanwhile, has been completed so he comes back into consideration and will go up against Chris Sessegnon for a starting place.
Last season, in February, Fleet strolled to a fairly easy 3-0 win at home but the Staines side at Wheatsheaf Park two months later was a much more difficult unit to break down and they were gunning for a late surge into the play-offs. Ben May’s goal looked to have been enough for the Fleet then but Michael Corcoran’s unfortunate own goal in stoppage time put the brakes on the visitors’ own play-off run.
Staines lost top scorer Louie Theophanous to Farnborough in midweek, a big blow given one of last season’s top Conference South goalscorers was also still prolific this time around, despite the Swans’ poor form. They have also waved goodbye to midfielder Brendan Kiernan, who played in the play-off semi-final for Bromley last season.
Managed by Marcus Gayle and with ex-Fleet hero Calum Willock on the coaching staff (while still featuring in the front line as a player), Staines got off to a superb start to the season, winning at Whitehawk and also beating Boreham Wood at home. But they lost 10 of their next 12 fixtures to see them surprisingly rooted to the bottom of the table.
Most of their defeats have come in fairly closely fought matches so it’s hardly a gulf in class that has seen them sink to the bottom. Willock (five goals this season) and former Bromley striker Elliott Buchanan provide plenty of experience up front, complemented now by 19-year-old Danny Bassett and they will need to plug the sizeable gap left by the departure of Theophanous.
Goalkeeper Jack Turner has recently made headlines, having scored in the home match against Whitehawk two weeks ago, while new signing Tommy Brewer from Hampton is expected to feature in central midfield after his debut last week. The physical Stephane Ngamvoulou, who played in midfield against the Fleet twice last season, could be handed a sweeper role after impressing in that position last week.
Manager Gayle thinks his side’s main problem is goals and is not overly discouraged by their league position. “We know we are not a team who are twenty-first,” he said. “We are only there temporarily and it’s not a true reflection of us. If we don’t score we won’t win games but there was definitely something to build on in our last game and I was encouraged by what I saw. It was a big improvement. If it was dire I would say it was dire but it wasn’t like that.”