Fareham boss Stiles hoping Jersey Bulls spying mission pays off in attractive Cams Alders FA Vase first round tie
Fareham Town enter the 2021/22 FA Vase having been handed one of the toughest ties possible.
The Reds have a first round home tie against Jersey Bull, who have won 37 of their 39 games in the English non-league pyramid since being elected to the Combined Counties League Division 1 ahead of the 2019/20 season.
But Reds boss Pete Stiles isn’t fearful of the Bulls’ remarkable record after watching them in league action at Badshot Lea earlier this month.
Though Jersey defeated the Premier Division South leaders 2-0, he believes he spotted some potential weaknesses Fareham can exploit.
Only formed three years ago, the Bulls had won all 27 games of their debut season in the CCL Division 1 when 2019/20 was null and voided due to Covid-19. They had already clinched promotion, were 20 points clear of Farnham with a game in hand, having scored 99 goals and conceded just seven!
In 2020/21 they won all four league games - all away matches due to travel restrictions on visiting the Channel Island - and were unsurprisingly promoted as part of the FA’s non-league restructuring earlier this year.
This season, having moved up to step 5 level, they have won six out of eight league games and are 10 points behind leaders Badshot Lea with four games in hand.
They have only played one home league game, drawing a crowd of 682 to see them beat Sheerwater 4-0 - their first home league game in 581 days!
Bulls also reached the third qualifying round of the FA Cup, beating higher tier Sutton Common Rovers in a replay en route - both games being held at Sutton’s Gander Green Lane home. Jersey also beat higher division VCD in the first qualifying round.
Jersey’s cup run was finally ended by tier higher Chertsey, losing 1-0 at home in front of a great crowd of 1,611 - the only time they have lost in 16 league and cup games this season.
Sol Solomon, the lone striker when Stiles watch Bulls play, is the main dangerman with 17 goals in 15 matches this term, though Lorne Bickley (8) and Luke Campbell (7) also provide a threat.
‘We know it’s going to be very difficult but we’re up for it, no doubt about that,’ stated Stiles.
‘We know that if we’re only slightly below par we could lose.
‘We could have had easier ties, but if you want to progress you’ve got to play these sides.
‘They looked a well organised side (at Badshot), almost military-like, but I saw a couple of things we’ll be looking to exploit.
‘Badshot could have got something if they’d been a bit braver, they only played one up front at home.
‘They’re beatable - they lost in the league this season.’
Stiles will select from virtually a full squad, with the exception of injured duo Dan Kempson and Josh Benfield.
Ex-Portchester keeper Jon Webb made his debut in Tuesday’s 3-0 Wessex League Cup win against Horndean and will face Jersey as well.
Goals from Kai Sterne and subs Bailey Newbury and Archie Wilcox gave the Reds a midweek win which sent them through to a last 16 home tie with Wessex Premier leaders Brockenhurst.
Both teams fielded a mixture of youth and fringe first teamers at Cams Alders, with Fareham handing debuts to Jack Van Der Lugt, Adam Hatton and Louis Udeh.
‘Horndean played the better football in the first half,’ said Stiles. ‘Second half we were physically stronger - we didn’t bully them, we just had that little bit extra.
‘I gave about seven first teamers the night off - they’re not the sort of games you want just before a big FA Vase tie.’
Ethan Jones and Dan Bennett were the only two who started against Poppies in last Saturday’s Wessex win and against Horndean.
Stiles, meanwhile, is hoping for a bumper Cams Alder crowd for the visit of Jersey Bulls, who have kept six clean sheets in their last eight matches.
‘I’d be looking for 300, maybe 400,’ he said. ‘Our crowds have been good this season - we had 158 against Horndean on a night when Pompey were home and there was Champions League on TV.
‘There’s always goals in our games, and that’s what people want to see.’
Fareham’s 10 home games so far in 2021/22 have produced 56 goals - 41 of them scored by Stiles’ side.
The Reds are entering the Vase at the first round proper stage, having missed out on the two qualifying rounds, as a result of reaching the third round last season - equalling the club’s best ever run in the tournament.