Play-off foes twice before at this level, Fleet-Chelmsford meetings are always well-contested affairs that once again this season look set to provide plenty of intrigue at the top of the Vanarama National League South.
It’s normal service resumed after something of a blip for Chelmsford last season as they spent much of that campaign anxiously scraping points to avoid an unlikely relegation. That’s all changed this season as the Clarets find themselves in the battle for at least that familiar play-off spot once more and, with. games in hand, one eye on automatic promotion too.
The visitors are one of only two sides Fleet have yet to face this season (the other being Dulwich who we travel to next Tuesday), although they were the final visitors of the regular 2021/22 campaign to the Kuflink Stadium.
A tough 90 minutes at Dover handed Fleet a second set of three points this month that has put the side back on track – although Dennis Kutrieb was quick to warn against treating the highs too high, just as he does when the lows occur. “Everything can change so quickly,” he said. “I’m not saying we are back on track and confident and we’ll win everything. It’s still the same as I said at the beginning of the season when we had so many wins, we need to be careful, we need to be on the front foot and deliver the basics in the right way.”
Omari Sterling-James faces a late fitness test after his first-half substitution at Dover while the Fleet boss has a few fresh faces not involved last Saturday potentially in line for a recall.
Eight months on from Chelmsford’s 2-1 defeat here last season, fortunes have risen considerably for Robbie Simpson’s side. While a lot is unchanged (they still don’t let in many goals and they still don’t score that many, relative to the other sides at the top), sitting fifth as opposed to just above the relegation zone is an improvement beyond most Clarets’ fans expectations.
A summer addition to the backroom staff with a head of recruitment has undoubtedly helped, but Chelmsford’s spine of Dave Winfield, Cameron James, (the currently injured) Ade Oluwo, Tom Blackwell and experienced Canadian international Simeon Jackson is maintained from last season.
A number of important additions, however, include striker Harry Lodovica, stepping up a level in the summer, as well as experienced ex-Bromley midfielder Liam Trotter and ex-Cray attacker Jamie Yila who scored twice in the FA Trophy against the Fleet last season.
More recently, Chelmsford have added ex-Fleet face Reece Grant and midfielder Arjanit Krasniqi from Dover Athletic, to supplement the loan signing of Kai Yearn (Cambridge United). New goalkeeper Eddie Beach, a teenager on loan from Chelsea, has just replaced another Premier League youngster between the posts after Ovie Ejeheri returned to Arsenal.
Chelmsford also lost influential midfielder Charlie Ruff to Havant & Waterlooville while another man in the middle, Louis Dunne, is out injured for the rest of the season.
As mentioned, Chelmsford boast the tightest defence in the league with only 20 goals conceded – a trait they showed last season, too, despite their woes. By the same token, they have also scored the fewest amongst teams in the top half of the table – the difference this season is the ability to carve out three points.
Like the Fleet, however, the Clarets’ form has taken something of a nosedive in recent weeks. They beat Dartford in early December but since then have suffered defeats to Dulwich Hamlet, St Albans City and Chippenham Town. That has been steadied by a four-point haul in their two matches against local rivals Braintree, a defeat of Wealdstone in the FA Trophy and a narrow penalties defeat from their visit to York in the same competition at the weekend.
The visitors have to go back eight years for their last wins here at the Kuflink Stadium, when they won on New Year’s Day 2015 and then again the following autumn in an FA Cup replay. A draw is a rare result with 1990 the last time the sides shared league points in Kent.
Tickets are available online at FleetLive.club until 5pm and after that from our ticket windows. PItch covers were due to be removed at noon today and if there is any change in the weather situation, we will update that ASAP.