Jamie Day and his staff are as eager as the Fleet fans to finally get started tomorrow after the postponed game at Welling meant the new manager’s first game in charge reverted once more to Weston-super-Mare.
In a three-page interview in tomorrow’s programme, Day admits to having had “a strange week” after the equally strange situation of watching his old team against his new one last Saturday. But after a week of training (though the squad lost most of one day due to the Welling match and its subsequent cancellation, an opportunity Day claimed was ultimately wasted), the Fleet boss believes he knows enough and has seen enough of his new players already to have decided on his starting line-up.
“I want us to express ourselves in the right way and entertain those who come to watch us, so they come back,” he told FleetOnline. “I’ve come into this job knowing the majority of the players or at least what they can do, but it’s a clean slate for every one of them, every one of the boys in this squad will have a chance to earn their place in the starting eleven.”
Fleet have no fresh suspensions or injuries to worry the new coaching staff and Joe Howe comes back into contention after sitting out last week’s Trophy tie against his and his manager’s former club. Daryl McMahon’s return to solely a playing role means competition for midfield places is high, particularly with Sean Shields drafted in and Brendan Kiernan back to fitness. Day has also registered himself as a player but is likely to take a back seat on the playing front for the foreseeable future.
The hectic schedule, now added to with the Welling replay coming only two days before Christmas, along with a list of long-term injuries means the manager is already on the lookout for new blood to keep Fleet moving forward through a crucial late December and January run of games. He will likely get the Weston and Welling games out of the way and seek to bring in one or two new faces thereafter.
Last season’s festive programme saw the Fleet gain only a point from two meetings with Bromley, and nothing from the Dover game, which ultimately left the side 18 points adrift of top spot. With Boreham Wood 10 points clear this time around, Fleet will know they need to improve on last year’s haul to take them into a new year where they play the top two teams twice each.
Like the Fleet, Weston-super-Mare are under new management, Ryan Northmore having been handed the role on a semi-permanent basis after Mickey Bell, in charge for only five months, departed in November. He has stopped the rot which saw them pick up only one point since beating the Fleet in early September and has now recorded four points in the last two games. It has allowed Weston to leapfrog Staines at the bottom of the table and eye what would be a remarkable double if they could overturn the Fleet again tomorrow.
The Seagulls have drafted in two strikers from Exeter City on loan – Matt Jay and Ollie Watkins – with the latter having scored on his debut against Farnborough. Kane Ingram, an experienced head in midfield, has also returned to the club since last we met, though former Newport and Hereford striker Jake Harris departed in midweek. Full back Pierce Mitchell has also rejoined on loan from Bristol Rovers and it will be his second trip to the PHB tomorrow, having visited with Bath City in an earlier spell on loan with them. Midfielder Jake Mawford misses out on the trip with an injury.
Weston have won two games on the road this season, against Farnborough and Staines Town, but they have never won at Stonebridge Road – though they hold a 3-2 advantage over the Fleet in terms of head-to-head victories. Our last meeting, of course, saw a sensational first half, with four goals in 10 minutes, including a Charlie Sheringham brace to haul Fleet back from two goals down. But Jacob Cane’s stoppage-time strike gave the home side an unexpected triumph and Fleet will be looking for revenge – and a decent first display under Jamie Day.