The local rivalry made this one of the more eye-catching ties in the FA Trophy draw as it was but events of the past week will have media and football fans in general casting more than a cursory glance at the outcome of Ebbsfleet United v Welling United on Saturday.
Some of the edge of what will be a truly intriguing clash may have been taken off by both clubs’ agreement to withdraw new Fleet boss Jamie Day to the stands, but there will nonetheless be plenty of points to prove among players on both sides. Fleet players may well be playing for their futures, while Welling’s squad will be keen to put one over on their old manager at the first opportunity.
This is Fleet’s first chance to test their mettle against a club from a higher division since last year’s Kent derby against Dartford in the FA Cup and caretaker manager Daryl McMahon is looking to bow out on a high and claim his third successive win. He will be without Joe Howe who – against his old club – serves a one-match suspension for picking up a fifth yellow card.
Alex Osborn and Brendan Kiernan are likely still on the treatment table but new loan signing Sean Shields comes into contention for a berth on the right of midfield. Dean Rance, meanwhile, returns from suspension and McMahon will have to decide whether to select himself again or keep either or both of Michael Corcoran or Matt Johnson in the middle.
McMahon seems likely to stick to his front pairing of Godden and Bricknell, both having found the net on Saturday, meaning Charlie Sheringham may have to be patient before he can get one over his old club.
Welling are on a decent run in the Conference, with only one defeat in six games having lifted them clear of the relegation zone and they find themselves with a nine-point cushion over fourth-from-bottom Dartford. They are also breathing down rivals Dover’s neck, the Whites having themselves embarked on a decent run of form.
A home draw against Bristol Rovers and an away win at Telford in midweek in their last two games mean the Wings will pose a formidable barrier to progression – even with the loss of Day and playmaker Harry Beautyman, who has departed on loan to Peterborough (with a view to a permanent move). The man now tasked with getting the goals is Tyrone Marsh, on loan from Oxford, and he has hit a goalscoring streak of late – while Bournemouth loanee Aristide Bassele is another to keep an eye on. Both players scored in Welling’s win at Telford on Tuesday.
Whether Fleet’s extra recovery time, having not played in midweek, will come into play is open to conjecture – and Welling’s squad is relatively small by comparison. The Wings will be without suspended skipper Jake Gallagher and injured defensive talisman Loui Fazakerley. Gallagher, however, has been appointed caretaker manager alongside former Fleet goalkeeper Jamie Turner, who won the Ryman League with us 12 years ago.
Welling’s is a young squad, with only Turner and Fazakerley what you could call veterans, but their position over two seasons in the higher division shows that ability is clearly triumphing over any perceived inexperience.
It’s a tie that is nicely balanced and, even without off-field events, likely to be a humdinger.