By Connor Steel
FLEETLANDS FOOTBALL CLUB have announced their managerial replacement following the recent departure of popular ex-boss Rich Bessey, ending weeks of speculation and starting the new era at Lederle Lane during a crucial period for their Wessex League promotion ambitions.
Following a board meeting the club decided to extend Chris Blakeman’s role of interim boss until the end of the 2021-22 campaign, believing this decision would provide stability and unity to the Coptermen. It marks a promotion within the ranks for Blakeman who was assistant manager under Bessey, a role started in summer this year.
The new Fleetlands role is Blakeman’s first ever taste of management, although he had a good playing career across non-league level; appearing for Southport as a centre half in the 1990s during Ronnie Moore’s time as manager. He has also confirmed his coaching backroom team and more information can be found on the club’s Twitter Page.
But after a weather related postponement, it was been an indifferent start to Fleetlands’ new era as they have lost four games in the last five; with the only win being a five-two victory against Clanfield. This victory was sandwiched between big defeats losing four-nil versus Moneyfields Reserves and a 4-1 local derby loss to Locks Heath in early November.
Wessex League side Folland Sports were also victors against the Coptermen with a two-one victory on Tuesday night (16/11), meaning that Blakeman’s side have exited the Russell Cotes Competition at the second round stage despite a spirited performance. Although not unexpected, it comes after another two-one defeat versus lower league opposition Meon Milton on Remembrance Weekend that ended all hopes of Hampshire Premier League Cup glory.
Connor Mansfield scored a brace for the Division 1 South East hosts in Portsmouth, before an injury to Fleetlands’ keeper Derek Harding meant defender Jamie Winter took over the shot-stopping responsibilities. The Coptermen reduced the arrears with a Luke Heard goal and looked favourites when Meon were sent down to ten men.
Home player-boss Bikram Singh was dismissed for a second bookable offence after a late foul down the right side, whilst Ben Johns was sinbinned for dissent just 10 minutes later. Upon the midfielder’s prompt return to action after calming down Meon were reduced to nine men as their captain Frankie Scott saw red for persistent arguing with the referee.
Despite their numerical advantage, however, Fleetlands were unable to find an equaliser against a Meon side that the Coptermen had beaten 4-1 in the Portsmouth Senior Cup last month at the same ground. Goals that afternoon were scored by Jamie Wrapson, Leigh Shadbolt and a double from Mark Smith in an extremely comfortable victory.
Following these two quick cup defeats in just three days, attention turns to league action for the Coptermen starting with a trip to Clanfield this Saturday (2pm kick-off). Home clashes versus Hayling Island, Liss Athletic and Paulsgrove then await Blakeman’s new side as the build up to Christmas continues. No fixtures have been updated for the New Year at the time of writing.
Fleetlands currently sit in sixth place within the Hampshire Premier League table; with seven wins, three draws and 3 defeats from thirteen matches played so far due to cup runs. The Coptermen also have games in hand on their opposition as the division reaches its half way point during the festive period, with a good run needed to secure promotion to the Wessex League Division One at this stage.
PICTURED BY KEITH WOODLAND: Fleetlands lose 2-1 away to Meon Milton last weekend