Fleet fans may not have the most pleasant recent memories of trips to Gander Green Lane (two defeats in the past two seasons) but historically we’ve enjoyed more success there than misfortune.
Our previous win at Sutton came in March 2002 as the Fleet battled it out in a two-horse race for the league title against Canvey Island and a similar outcome this season would do just fine as far as Fleet fans are concerned. That same season, Sutton did us a big favour in the penultimate game of the season, holding Canvey to a draw as we crashed at home to Boreham Wood, thereby allowing the Ryman League title to remain in our own hands and we duly wrapped things up on the last day of the season.
Most recently, however, visits to Gander Green Lane have been best forgotten. In 2013/14, as Fleet edged closer to play-off qualification, a resurgent Sutton were doing their level best to catch Eastleigh at the top of the league. Fleet scored first that day, a Daryl McMahon free-kick setting us on our way, but the home side roared back in the second half and a Jamie Taylor brace, added to a Simon Downer effort, left us well beaten.
Last season, of course, Fleet fans travelled in numbers and expectation to see Jamie Day’s new-look side in action but Sutton stunned the visitors, racing into an early two-goal lead before Danny Kedwell gave us brief hope with his first club goal from the penalty spot.
Better memories are to be had from the aforementioned 2002 clash, when a 1-0 win saw Fleet creep closer to (and eventually overhaul) league leaders Canvey Island. Prior to that, Fleet v Sutton clashes rarely had much riding on them. We won 4-1 the year before, with a Che Stadhart brace (pictured), an own goal and a Jimmy Jackson strike. Other visits saw a 1-1 draw (Dave Powell scoring) in 1999, a 3-1 defeat in 1997 (Steve Lovell getting the goal in his last game as player-manager) and a 1-0 FA Cup replay win (Steve Dixson) in 1985 – no mean feat against a Sutton side that finished that season as Isthmian League champions.
All in all, our clubs have met 15 times (W 9 D 3 L 3), with the first clash coming at Stonebridge Road in a 1962 FA Cup fixture. That one was noteworthy as the second tie in our epic cup run that culminated at Sunderland in the Fourth Round. Fleet have never lost to Sutton at home, including an excellent 2-2 draw that some fans might remember against the eventual Ryman League champions in 1998, but it’s in Surrey where Fleet’s statistics need to improve – and third time lucky is the superstition the visiting fans will be pinning their hopes on come Saturday.