Ebbsfleet United travel to Eastbourne Borough this Saturday determined to at least maintain their cushion at the top of the table.
Last week’s draw with second-placed Oxford City, and their rivals’ subsequent defeat in midweek, has given the Fleet a great chance to dictate the pace once more in National League South – rather than encourage the teams below them, who in recent weeks have viewed the diminishing points gap with relish.
Oxford, Maidstone, Whitehawk and Maidenhead all have potentially tricky games on the road as well as the Fleet but Daryl McMahon is solely focused on his own side’s three points.
And he has reiterated his reluctance to meddle with his starting line-up while his side continue to top the table and create chances as they have up to this point. Whether that means Jordan Parkes continues to warm the bench while the Fleet boss keeps the faith with the energy and strength of Lewis and Rance, combined with the flair of Kissock and Haynes, is one for McMahon to mull over before Saturday’s kick-off.
Eastbourne have yet to beat the Fleet in a competitive game – but they have certainly come close on several occasions on their own patch, having taken the lead in two of the last three clashes at Priory Lane.
Form-wise, Fleet are certainly in the driving seat with only two points dropped on their travels this season while the Sports haven’t won a league game at home since August. In midweek, however, they gained a morale-boost of sorts with a 4-1 Sussex Senior Cup win over Worthing United.
Having beaten Maidstone at home at the start of the season, Eastbourne clearly have it within themselves to cause problems but haven’t picked up three points in any game since a 5-1 thrashing of their hosts Basingstoke in mid-September. That said, creditable draws at Oxford City and against Sutton have kept them comfortably in mid-table.
There are plenty of familiar faces in the Sports line-up, with former Fleet favourite Craig Stone amongst their number, which also boasts Ian Simpemba, Nathaniel Pinney and ex-trialist Kiran Khinda-John.
The Sports have also re-signed defender Marvin Hamilton from Dartford while ex-Tonbridge goalkeeper Lewis Carey remains between the sticks – those two players Fleet fans might recall as proving particularly resolute in shutting out Steve Brown’s side in last season’s frustrating 0-0 draw at Stonebridge Road.
Tommy Widdrington’s side could welcome back defender Adam Watts who has been out injured and they will be itching to get back into action after two weeks without a league game. Striker Pinney seems back to his best at this level after several seasons playing in the Ryman League and is aiming to repeat the spell he had at the Fleet, a division up, when he bagged a fair number of goals.
Alongside him, ex-Sutton striker Gavin McCallum is always a handful and another ex-U – midfielder Kane Haysman – is one to watch.
In recent weeks, with a draw against Sutton and a narrow defeat to Dover in the FA Cup, Borough have been looking at getting back to their early season form and will be hoping to at least match the two draws they achieved against the Fleet last season.