Meeting Number Three between the Fleet and Eastleigh this season undoubtedly sees the Spitfires in better shape than before either of the first two games. Having drawn the league fixture at the Kuflink Stadium 2-2, Fleet then produced a last-minute winner to see Eastleigh off in the FA Trophy, with boss Richard Hill moving into a director of football role and Andy Hessenthaler being handed the first-team manager’s role shortly after that.
With one eye on the weather Friday morning, Fleet will travel to Hampshire to face an Eastleigh team who have climbed from 19th to 12th since they lost the Trophy tie in December. Hessenthaler embarked on an eight-game unbeaten run after that, though more recently the Spitfires went seven without a win until coming from behind to beat Dover Athletic on Tuesday night.
Former Eastleigh midfielders Luke Coulson and Andy Drury return to their former home ground, with Coulson now eyeing second place in the Fleet scoring charts having netted against Maidenhead United last weekend. He’s on eight goals for the season, just one behind Jack Powell.
Daryl McMahon has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip and his main headache will be whether the rain holds off as his side could do without having to squeeze in another midweek fixture this late in the season. Games against Wrexham and away at Gateshead have already been arranged in April and a third evening match will make for a hectic end to the campaign.
This will be the Fleet’s first trip to the much-improved Silverlake Stadium since losing 3-1 to the eventual National South champions during 2013/14 and only our third visit in all, having won 3-0 there in our promotion season of 2010/11.
Having reached the play-offs in their first season after promotion, Eastleigh’s subsequent campaigns have been disappointing and Hessenthaler will be looking to get the club back on track for 2018/19. He hasn’t tinkered much with the squad that previously faced the Fleet, with only midfielder Ryan Broom coming in on loan from Bristol Rovers.
Fleet fans might breathe a sigh of relief to note that striker James Constable has departed for Poole Town on loan, the former Oxford man having had a habit of scoring against us. Centre-back Callum Howe, who impressed at the Kuflink Stadium, has also gone, signing for Port Vale. Eastleigh can field arguably the most experienced side in the National League, with the likes of Chris Zebroski, Mark Yeates, Sam Togwell, Sam Wood and Andrew Boyce boasting plenty of years between them.
Defender Gavin Hoyte has a shoulder injury but Ayo Obileye returned from a groin complaint on Tuesday and fellow defender Ryan Creswell, out for most of the season, has played the last few weeks without complaint.