The Coptermen signed off 2021 with 22 goals in three matches - a 7-0 Hampshire Trophy win over lower tier Hamble United, a 10-2 Hampshire Premier League rout of Liss and a 5-4 win over Paulsgrove.
The weekend thriller on a 3G at Cowplain School ended Fleetlands’ five-year wait for a HPL Senior Division victory over Grove.
Alpay Ali, playing as the central striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, took his tally to 15 in four games - including a double hat-trick for the reserves - with a brace as Fleetlands came from 0-2 down to triumph.
With Jamie Wrapson playing a central role in the ‘three’ either side of two-goal debutant George Gregory (left side) and ex-Baffins winger Callum Smith, Fleetlands were a constant danger going forwards. And they still have Callum Dart, dual signed from Baffins but unavailable at the weekend, and Jake Alford to provide Wessex League standard attacking options.
Though it wasn’t a first choice XI, Grove are perennially difficult to break down - this was only the third time since April 2019 they had conceded five in a league game. It could easily have been more, though Steve Ledger’s side could equally as easily have scored six themselves.
Ashton Leigh, signed from four tiers higher Bognor Regis as a one-off ‘emergency’ recruit, struck four times on his debut for Grove.
After netting twice in the opening half hour, Leigh could - perhaps should - have made it 3-0, but keeper Jayden Ridout kept Fleetlands in it with a key save.
‘We could have had a few more. It could have been a lot higher for both teams,’ said Blakeman.
‘Jayden played well for us - that was the best I’ve seen him play.
‘It was a strange game. We felt very comfortable before they got their goals and even at 2-0 down we felt we were still in the game. We never felt out of it, but at 2-0 down it was important we got the next goal.
‘It would have been easy to think we were up against it, so the players deserve a pat on the back to come back as quickly as they did.’
Fleetlands brought on Woking U23s defender Owen Sims at half-time, to try and tighten up at the back. It worked as they opened up 4-2 and 5-3 leads, before each time allowing Leigh to pull Grove back into contention.
‘It was important we stopped giving them chances,’ Blakeman said. ‘We made a change at half-time to try and nullify their threat (Leigh), and it was a big threat.
‘The goals we gave away were frustrating, as we were on top at the time.’
Prior to Saturday, Fleetlands’ last HPL win against Grove had been a 5-2 success at Lederle Lane in November 2016. Back then, the Coptermen went on to finish runners-up - their highest ever Senior Division finish.
Though promotion to the Wessex League remains the burning ambition, Fleetlands will do well to claim a similar position in 2021/22.
But third place could still be a realistic ambition, given they are only seven points behind third-placed Locks Heath with two games in hand. They trail second-placed Denmead by 13 points but have two games in hand, and still have to play them twice.
Fleetlands will certainly be targeting maximum points from their first three HPL fixtures of 2022 - against Overton, Lyndhurst and Chamberlayne, three teams in the bottom five.
‘To win 5-4 shows there are things we need to work on, but the defensive solidity will come from playing together,’ Blakeman remarked. ‘We’re a new team and we’re still gelling.
‘I’m excited with what’s to come. We’ve scored 22 goals in three games so you can see where our strengths are.’
Grove boss Steve Ledger said this morning he was still ‘stunned’ by his side’s loss.
‘We were down to the bare bones in the morning, and we had to call our reserve game off,’ he explained.
‘Thankfully I was able to bring in Ashton Leigh and he made a hell of a difference.
‘We should have put the game to bed. Ashton missed a one on one that would have put us 3-0 up.
‘It ebbed and flowed. I thought a draw would have been a fair result, but credit to Fleetlands. It was a tough one for us to take, though.’
Due to the lack of a settled side in recent months, Grove have been unable to find any momentum.
‘We need to hit the ground running in January, we need to make a statement,’ Ledger remarked.
‘I’m glad to get 2021 out of the way. We had seven first teamers missing (against Fleetlands) and that’s been the story of our season so far.
‘I haven’t been able to select the same side in successive games since I took over from Wayne (Grant, former manager). That can’t continue in January.
‘We need some consistency and we need players who want to die for the shirt. Some are too comfortable at the moment because of the selection issues we’ve had.
‘In our day, if you got chosen you didn’t want to give your shirt up, you’d put in 110 per cent.
‘I don’t think I’m getting that from some of the players, and that’s down to me. It’s up to me and Darren (Lambe, assistant manager) to sort it out.’