The Fleet head into the second half of the season as they meet this campaign’s opening opponents once more, with Guiseley making the return trip to the Kuflink Stadium this Saturday.
For Daryl McMahon, it’s been an opportunity to take stock of where his side are after their first four months back at the top level and he insists back-to-back wins and greater consistency are key to not only the Fleet’s fortunes but any other club who has ambitions in this division.
“Nobody has been that consistent so you’d imagine somebody will find a bit of a streak in the second half of the season and string together a long sequence of wins,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “That normally happens in most divisions, most seasons. I expect it to happen after Christmas, too, but who that team is going to be, it could be one of 10 clubs or more.”
The Fleet boss has been pleased with the competitiveness his side have shown in a majority of games this season and while he’s been impressed with a few opponents up till now, he believes the Fleet can put a run together as well as any of them.
“Sutton and Wrexham have impressed me,” he said. “Fylde also played great football, they’re the sides I’ve most admired. Aldershot, too, have been a good side for a while and they’re showing it. And I still think Tranmere and Hartlepool with experienced, deep squads, can do something.
“We’ve had some frustrating moments and obviously had some disappointing performances in the first half of the season, together with some great moments, most recently the back-to-back home wins over Leyton Orient and Hartlepool who were Football League this time last season. But we’ve matched most teams and there’s no reason why we can’t put a run together.”
McMahon thinks sides like Tranmere and Hartlepool will come into their own given the depth of their squads. “Those sort of sides, there’s a massive gulf in terms of experience. Yes, anybody can beat anybody on a given day but over the course of a season, you have to respect those teams who can call on experience and depth and likely click into gear and go on a long run.
“When you marry it up, we are more or less running with the same team we had last season. We’ve dropped in the likes of Coulson and Weston from above, but even three of our new signings in Bush, Mills and Graham came from the South. We’re missing some big players, too, in Jack Payne from the higher level, then Dave Winfield, Bradley Bubb and Darren McQueen are on the sidelines. They’re all huge players for us. Having them out of the side and us still remaining competitive, with a points tally only five off the play-offs, tells you where we’re at. And with them on the verge of returning to the squad, I think that makes us even more competitive.”
McMahon praised those players who have come in and more than held their own to keep Fleet in the hunt over the first 22 games of the season. “The players who have come in and the players who have performed only half-fit sometimes have done brilliantly to get us in the position we are now. And we are in a good position. Sure, we could have added a few more points in some of our games, every other side in this division is thinking that too. Hopefully in the second half of the season we’ll be operating with a fuller squad and try and go on a run and see where we end up.
“We’ve become used to winning for two or three years. When we don’t win, it’s still treated as a surprise, you can feel that around the place. And that’s a good thing in so far as expectations and ambitions are high, but at the same time you’ve got to appreciate we’re at a higher level, we’re missing key players and we have this money tag, it’s not actually as much as anyone thinks. We’re not out there paying huge transfer fees or prising players from clubs mid-season with big offers. And when we do have key players out, we can lose momentum, it affects us like it would any other club.”
The impending return of some of those key players has meant loan deals for Danny Mills and Bagasan Graham and McMahon conceded they’d found it tough to break into the side. “Players have got to play. Bagasan’s not played too many this season obviously, Millsy’s found it difficult in the sense he was at Whitehawk as their main striker for five years. But this season Keds has been outstanding for us, he’s around the top six goalscorers in the division, so Millsy has found it hard to shift him. They haven’t quite worked as a pair when we’ve put them together so going out, getting some games and keeping him sharp and ready to prove himself is in everyone’s interest.”
Meanwhile, the Fleet boss continues to cast his eye over potential new recruits up front but wants to make a signing that will benefit the club in the long term. “It’s a difficult position to find a player,” he said. “Everyone wants a goalscorer, everyone is looking to strengthen that area halfway through the season and it’s always a hard position to get just right. We’ve got to make sure we get the right one and hopefully somebody for the long term. Contrary to the popular view, we haven’t got money to blow on one just like that, I have budgets to work to, so it’ll be on a free or long-term loan.”
McMahon’s striking options on Saturday will likely not feature either Bradley Bubb or Febian Brandy, who both continue to struggle with hamstring troubles. “They’re eager to get back and we’re eager to get them back,” the manager said, “but rushing them would be counter-productive.”
Dave Winfield was unable to play in a friendly against Gillingham in midweek as there were concerns it was a little too early for him. McMahon said it was nothing major with the defender and he was back in training this week. Dean Rance will also be assessed on the knock he took against Hartlepool United but he’s another one who trained towards the end of the week.
Guiseley, under new boss Paul Cox, have been ringing the changes, some enforced through injury and suspension, some due to the manager bringing in new recruits. Former Staines Town and Whitehawk defender Chris M’Boungou is missing after being sent off last weekend, as is left-back Darren Holden. That means early-season Fleet signing Jean-Yves Niate could feature for the Lions who are also without injured parties James Wesolowski, Will Hatfield, Elliott Green, Marcus Williams, Danny East and Rob Atkinson. On-loan Stevenage striker Rowan Liburd is also a doubt, along with Jake Lawlor, Kevan Hurst and Mike Fondop.
Read more at: https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/sport/football/non-league-football/ebbsfleet-v-guiseley-cox-s-plans-won-t-be-derailed-by-absentees-1-8898943
Guiseley have nonetheless a very big squad since Cox began to draft in new recruits and he has brought in midfield pair Alex-Ray Harvey and Liam Hughes from former club Barrow, both of whom have already faced the Fleet at the Kuflink Stadium this season. It all means the Yorkshire side will line-up with as many as six or seven new faces from the side that played the Fleet at Nethermoor Park.
“They’ll come to put us under pressure,” McMahon said. “Paul Cox has won promotion from this league into the Football League with Mansfield and his sides are big and tough. We have to stand up to that and we have to play our game, too. We can’t take out foot off the gas especially as we need to start putting back-to-back wins together if we’re to push on.”
McMahon says his players and staff have settled in well to their new premises across from the old stand and he greeted the news of further development to allow the team to perform without worrying about off-field matters.
“The stadium news is terrific for us and getting capacity back up is important for us to keep moving forward. And getting the Main Stand open now is a massive lift for the staff, the players and the board. To get the first win and then the second was really important in the new stand. There are tiny things in football that matter. Things even like moving from one dugout to a different dugout… I’m not superstitious – one or two on the staff might be though! – but with a new changing room too, it’s all part of a different environment so it’s important you get a couple of wins in that new environment straight away. And against two ex-League clubs as well, it was a real boost and everyone’s settled down nicely. Hopefully we can now go on to bigger and better things over the next few years with the stadium evolving around an evolving team.”
Saturday’s match is not segregated. As ever, supporters are advised to park in Ebbsfleet International Car Park C. More cars were ticketed along Thames Way last week so please be aware of the risk of leaving your vehicle there.