Thursday 01st September 2005

Fleet ready for opening day Exeter test


Monday 8th
August 2005
Stephen McCartney reports from 
Stonebridge Road
Gravesend & Northfleet 1 Charlie MacDonald 50
Charlton Athletic 2 Alex Varney 16
James Walker 86 (pen)

Gravesend & Northfleet boss Liam Daish insists his side are ready for their Nationwide Conference opener against Exeter City at Stonebridge Road on Saturday, writes Stephen McCartney.

The Fleet impressed, creating numerous chances against Charlton Athletic's reserve side during their final pre-season friendly ahead of the big kick off at the weekend.

Daish's men have played eight warm-up matches, beating Folkestone Invicta (3-1), Basingstoke Town (2-1) and Hastings United (1-0).

The Fleet have drawn once, at Lymington & New Milton (1-1) but have suffered defeats against Colchester United (at home, 6-0), Waltham Forest (3-0) and East Thurrock United (2-1) but were robbed by their local Premiership neighbours.

But the next time Fleet take to the field it's for real, with points at stake.

The game with Charlton Athletic was arranged to celebrate 100 years of football at their Stonebridge Road ground.

The 2nd September 2005 marks their centenary.  The donation of "a nice little plot of level ground at the bottom of Stonebridge hill" was made by APCM the large local cement manufacturers for a peppercorn rent to Northfleet United, then the local pre-eminent local team.

Gravesend & Northfleet, however, moved in, during the early 1950's and in the last five years they have spent £350,000 on ground improvements.

Chairman Brian Kilcullen explained the latest situation with the closed home covered terrace behind one of the goals, the Northfleet End.

"In the last five years £350,000 has been spent on ground improvements with more planned for the Northfleet End," he wrote in his programme notes.

"As we know from our problems with the Northfleet End without constant repairs and renovations in this health and safety conscious time there would be no football here at all.

"I know the situation with the closed stand is frustrating but we need to ensure that as a club the correct decision is made and this will mean a gradual reopening over the coming weeks as and when repairs are completed.

"What is certain is that the closure has seen a loss of atmosphere from inside the ground despite the efforts of our drummer and it will be fantastic to get our home end back and to hear the singing and chanting again.

"Thank you all for your patience with this difficult situation."

Back on the pitch, however, Daish was pleased with his team's performance against Charlton.

"I thought we were good value, gave them a decent game, created chances, worked hard, and I'm quite happy," he told after the game.

What was pleasing for the Nationwide Conference side was that they created numerous chances against tough opposition - and Daish will be hoping for more of the same against their visitors from Devon on Saturday.

Charlton, however, took the lead against the run of play after 16 minutes.  Lloyd Sam on the left hand side of the penalty box, centred for Alex Varney whose prod at goal took a deflection to find the back of the net.   Charlton were subdued in their celebrations with a couple of hand shakes.

Justin Skinner's rasping drive was too hot to handle for Charlton's goalkeeper, Darren Randolph, but he managed to get in the way of the shot.

And he tested the goalkeeper again, after 33 minutes, when his left-footed 35-yarder forced Randolph to dive quickly low to his left to push the shot around the post.

At the other end smart defending from new signing Scott Gooding denied Sam, after his initial shot beat Kerr and clipped the left upright and bounced along the goal-line but Gooding prevented the ball crossing the line with some brave defending beside the other post.

The Fleet, however, deservedly drew level five minutes after the break when former Charlton star, Charlie MacDonald clinically finished off Kim Grant's cross from the right.

The home side twice hit the woodwork in the space of seven minutes.  Substitute, Lee Protheroe was denied from a 22-yard free kick, after diving substitute goalkeeper, Rob Elliot tipped the drive against the far post.

Then, after latching onto Jay Saunders' ball, Grant's shot clipped the far post when he only had the goalkeeper to beat.

But Charlton stole an un-deserved victory with four minutes left when Craig Holloway picked the ball out of his net from James Walker's penalty, after he brought down the player inside the box.

Looking ahead to Exeter City, Daish added: "I am confident but it's going to be a tough game but I think if we work like that and play like that, we'll give them a good game.

"We'll be asking questions - we asked questions to Charlton today, which was pleasing."

Justin Skinner (ribs) should be fit after a clash forced him off late in the game but Graham Porter and Steve McKimm are ruled out for the opener.

Starting elevens only:

Gravesend & Northfleet: Aaron Kerr, Scott Gooding, Justin Skinner, Paul McCarthy, Jay Saunders, Bobby Bowry, Danny Slatter, Charlie MacDonald, Kim Grant, Ross Smith, Jimmy Jackson.

Charlton Athletic: Darren Randolph, Barry Fuller, Kelly Youga, Radistin Kishishev, Osi Sankova, Gohcalo Brandao, Alistair John, Tom Bates, Alex Varney, Shaun Bartlett, Lloyd Sam