Ebbsfleet United face a second crunch match in the Vanarama National League South on Tuesday evening as the team that leap-frogged them into third place visit Stonebridge Road for the first time in five years.
Hampton & Richmond Borough are amongst the highest scorers in the division, with attacking players Jamal Lowe and Nicke Kabamba having scored 26 of their side’s 41 goals this season. They are also one of only two sides in the entire three divisions of the National League to remain unbeaten away from home.
Given an away record almost identical to Maidenhead’s, Daryl McMahon doesn’t expect the Middlesex team to alter the way they play at Stonebridge Road. “Some teams come here and set up totally different to the way we’ve seen them play in previous games,” McMahon said. “I didn’t expect that of Maidenhead and I don’t expect it of Hampton, so it’ll be an open game and we have to make them worry about us, not the other way around.”
The Fleet boss hinted at changes, saying goalscorer Bradley Bubb had earned consideration for a starting place but he may also dwell on his defensive formation. Sam Deering made way at half-time on Saturday for Jack Connors as the Fleet shaped up in a 4-4-2 that looked more solid in the second half, bar the last-minute concession of Maidenhead’s winner. Mark Phillips isn’t suspended (for three games) until Saturday so the big defensive question will be whether Louis John comes into a back three with Phillips and Clark or whether Marvin McCoy keeps his place in the 3-5-2… or forms part of a 4-4-2 with Connors the other side.
Hampton brushed Welling United aside in the second half of their game on Saturday, Lowe scoring another only days after he’d opened his account for England C in Estonia. The Beavers have been a little inconsistent of late, following every win with a defeat over their past few matches, but their away record is formidable with only Chelmsford really testing it (a late goal by former Fleet midfielder Brendan Kiernan rescued Hampton on that occasion).
But as McMahon has impressed on his team, it’s their strengths the opposition should be worried about rather than vice versa and Hampton’s back line has looked a little suspect this season, having conceded 27 goals so far. The visitors dropped goalkeeper Aaron Howe for his deputy Billy Bishop last Saturday and they have a few square pegs in round holes defensively so that will encourage Fleet’s in-form wide men to get at them as they did Maidenhead in the second half and utilise the speed and guile of Bubb or Darren McQueen.
Fleet have won the last four encounters against Hampton, including a double in our promotion season of 2010/11. A 1-0 win at Stonebridge Road then was enough to put Fleet into second place and a similar result tonight would have the same effect.