A trophy will cap a great season, says Fleet Leisure boss Lee Richmond
The club, who hire Rochester United’s Rede Court Road ground for £5,000 rent per year, completed their inaugural Kent Invicta League campaign in fourth-place with 52 points from their 28 league games.
“Considering we had a lot of games to catch up and predicted to finish in the bottom three at the start of the season I am immensely proud of all my players,” said Richmond.
“We had four games in eight days at the end so we showed our character.
“To finish fourth and get to a final in our first season is a superb effort from everyone involved at the club.”
Richmond claims the club are relishing the underdog tag for their first chance of winning silverware at this level.
He said: “Saturday’s game should be hotly contested against a very good Sutton team, who finished third.
“We start as underdogs but will be going all out to win it which will cap a great season.
“Sutton are a good established club and have just been awarded planning permission on their ground which is great news for them.
“For us to be competing against a team like that speaks volumes of the hard work everyone has put in at Fleet Leisure.”
Colin Richmond, 23, who has experience of Ryman League football with the likes of Sittingbourne and Maidstone United, misses the final through suspension.
Sutton Athletic finished in third-place in their third campaign in the Kent Invicta League with 52 points, but manager James Collins reflected on his first season in charge of the club.
“I think finishing third in our first league campaign (at the club) has definitely been a success,” said the former Erith Town manager.
“Results suffered at first losing three of our first six as it took us a little while to settle down and get to know each other.
“We asked the boys to buy into our philosophy. The ones that didn’t left and the ones that have stayed have been unbelievable.
“We added some really good players to compliment the players that have been at the club for a while.
“We have made massive strides on and off the field this season, perhaps even more than we could have hoped for.
“On the playing side the boys deserve all the credit. They’ve really brought into what we’re trying to build here and the cup final is just the reward for a season of hard work.”
There will be pressure on Collins to deliver the goods next season as the club bid to secure promotion to the Southern Counties East Football League following ground improvements at Lower Road.
The Hextable-based club received planning permission from Sevenoaks District Council last month to install ground perimeter fencing; install 2 x 100 seated stands; 1 x 100 standing spectator stand; improve car parking and erect six floodlight pylons.
Collins said: “Off the pitch we have had the planning permission to develop the stadium, which is huge credit to the committee. They have worked tirelessly for it and deserve huge credit.
“The club have come a long way in a short space of time.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s showpiece Final at Thamesmead Town’s Bayliss Avenue, Collins said: “I’m expecting a really tight game on Saturday. There is nothing between the two teams. We finished third, Fleet finished fourth. They beat us 2-1 at their place and we won the return 2-1.
“We have not spoken too much about the Final as we said that third was a must with the season that we have had. We secured that on Monday so we started then thinking about the Final.
“I said to the players after Wednesday’s game, I’m glad that we are playing a top side in the Final as I know we will turn up. It’s the teams that on paper we are expected to beat that worry me as sometimes we just don’t turn up.
“But I know we will turn up on Saturday and we know on our day we can beat anyone just as we did with Hollands & Blair in the quarter-final.
“It should be a really good game.”
Meanwhile, Paul Piggott, who guided Hollands & Blair to the Kent Invicta League title, plays the waiting game to see if the Gillingham-based club will be given the green light for promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League next season.
The club won the title after finishing ten points clear of Lydd Town, having collected 76 points. They scored a total number of 123 goals in 28 league games this season and have waited three seasons to seal the title after losing out to Bly Spartans (now Rochester United) and Phoenix Sports.
“The players deserve all the pats on the backs that they’ve received over the last week or so,” said a delighted Piggott.
“The way they’ve played over the last ten games was nothing short of brilliant.
“Lydd kept the pressure on as far as results but you’d have never known that with the way they were performing and the fact that our goal difference was 100 just sums up their achievements.
“We can now enjoy our summer and hope the league let us into the Kent League, which as a club off the field have worked really hard to get the ground up to scratch.
“I think now it’s just a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s but we won’t count our chickens until we get officially accepted.”
Admission prices for tomorrow’s final have been confirmed by the League at £5 (adults) and £3 (senior citizens). Under 16s can watch the action for FREE.
Fleet Leisure v Sutton Athletic
Pain & Glory Sports Kent Invicta League Challenge Trophy Final
Saturday 10th May 2014
Kick Off 3:00pm
At Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28 8NJ