Gosport Borough visit Stonebridge Road this Saturday marking both the halfway point of 2016/17 and the first time we’ll play a side twice in the league this season.
Their 1-0 win back in September was Fleet’s first defeat of the campaign and one of two losses in a troubling weekend that included a reverse at Chelmsford City – but Daryl McMahon is not dwelling on that as much as the improvement he believes his side have undergone.
“We’re a different side,” he told FleetOnline. “Then we had suspensions, injuries, new players finding their feet – not to excuse the defeats but they were part and parcel of them. Now, we have all our players coming back from suspension and largely injury-free and after the Woking performance of Tuesday, if we can add that consistency and work ethic on a week-by-week basis, we won’t lose many.”
Indeed from the situation just two weeks ago where Fleet were facing the prospect of having just one available centre-back, the return of Dave Winfield and Mark Phillips from suspension plus Yado Mambo being back in contention, gives McMahon almost an embarrassment of riches at the back. Loanee Louis John is the only casualty with a hamstring injury still ruling him out.
The Fleet boss said he had “11 shattered players” after they put a shift in at Woking but he’s convinced they won’t feel any after effects. “No, we’re raring to go,” he said. “We changed things around with Darren McQueen to give Woking a little more to think about with his pace, plus Keds and Jack Connors, so we were able to give a few more players a game. We have Stuart Lewis, Charlie Sheringham, Bradley Bubb and Sean Shields all fresh as well to come into the reckoning depending on the team, so we’ll be fit and ready.”
Gosport, by contrast, have more of a selection headache and have seen a number of close-season signings depart the club, two of them in the past 24 hours. Former Basingstoke striker Chris Flood has quit the club, as has midfield lynchpin Jamie Barron, who signed from Winchester City in the summer. They join goalkeeper Martin Rice who returned to Truro City a few weeks ago.
Rice’s departure meant the promotion of academy goalkeeper Lewis Watch but he was injured against Whitehawk and replaced by his own Academy understudy Ellis Grant. There’s better news on that front for the visitors, however, with former Portsmouth, Weymouth and Exeter keeper Nick Jordan having come out of retirement in time for the game at Stonebridge Road.
Boro have won only one of their last eight league games but did turn over Hungerford in the Buildbase FA Trophy recently – though that was undone last week when they lost at AFC Sudbury in Round One. Their top scorer, Warren Bentley, has done well to score nine this term as he fills the boots of long-time goal machine Justin Bennett who left the club in the summer. While the now-departed Flood will be a big loss up front, Boro can also call on Ben Wright who scored 14 for Maidenhead last season and was Bradley Bubb’s strike partner at Havant & Waterlooville in the season they made the play-offs.
There’s experience elsewhere in the side as well, with midfielder Ben Harding (a colleague of Dave Winfield’s when the pair played for Aldershot against the Fleet in the 2008 FA Trophy semi-finals) and skipper Joe Oastler having racked up plenty of Football League appearances.