Three months on from the play-off semi-finals and the epic second leg against Whitehawk, the Sussex club are back at Stonebridge Road… but not as we know them.
Manager Pablo Asensio has completed a transformation of the playing squad and could field as few as three of the side that featured in the Hawks squad back in May. Gone are wide men Nick Arnold and Dave Martin and with them have departed goalkeeper Craig Ross, defenders Chris Sessegnon and Jordan Rose, midfielders Arnaud Mendy and David Ijaha, striker Jake Robinson and several others. Assistant manager and former Fleet goalkeeper Lance Cronin also left his post at the weekend.
Daryl McMahon and his squad will be all too familiar with those who remain – Sergio Torres and Danny Mills are the matchwinners, defenders Marvin Hamilton and Chris M’Boungou have played at this level for several seasons while Michael West hardly needs any introduction.
Elsewhere in the squad, however, it’s a different story. Seven Brazilians, another Argentine in addition to Torres, two Frenchmen, two Spaniards, an Albanian and a Saudi national are all vying for places in the lineup for tonight.
McMahon has had them watched twice and while he admits some of the Hawks players are an unknown quantity, he’s expecting a challenge. “I know how Pablo will set up and what kind of team he’s trying to put together down there. He’ll want them playing good football and we’ve seen him get the results that way last season.”
With two defeats out of their three games, the Hawks may be taking a while to gel but McMahon expects them to be amongst the honours at the end of the season.
Fleet will have to get to grips with Whitehawk from the word go as, despite their defeats, they have scored inside the opening quarter hour in each of their matches so far this season and will be looking to give their season some impetus.
What’s more, they’ve enjoyed quick starts at Stonebridge Road before, racing into a 2-0 lead in the league game last season as well as levelling the tie on aggregate inside five minutes of the play-off second leg.
Charlie Sheringham was due to take part in a full training session yesterday, supposedly without any after-effects from the 90 minutes he put in on Saturday, while McMahon was also hopeful that Danny Kedwell would be back in contention having also trained.
Mark Phillips and Jordan Parkes played a full part in training, too, though the defender may well need a few more days to be considered ready for action. Aaron McLean is undergoing rehabilitation at the FA’s St George’s Park this week with a view to resuming training next week.
It’s Fleet’s first game of the season under floodlights and McMahon is hoping for a traditionally vociferous Stonebridge Road. Despite the three-sided surrounds, the Fleet boss says his squad hardly remarked on a changed atmosphere against Poole Town.
“I don’t think it changed anything for us,” he told FleetOnline. “The atmosphere was still very good in the first match and the pitch was terrific to play on. We’d obviously rather have support from all sides but it’s not something that bothers us unduly and there were more fans packed into the other areas so we just got on with it and enjoyed that aspect of it.”