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The top two face off

Ebbsfleet United couldn’t pick a better game to reverse their recent ill fortunes at home than against their closest rivals for top spot. A win against Oxford City would put the gap at the top back to eight points, a comfortable cushion that has been gradually worn away in recent weeks.

But despite the defeat to Wealdstone last week, Daryl McMahon is keen to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and has emphasised he will pick a team to suit the challenges posed by the opposition and not just as a response to a previous defeat. Jordan Parkes was rested last weekend, with Dean Rance utilised to cut the supply line to Jefferson Louis, but McMahon knows Oxford City will pose a completely different threat and he will make his team selection on that basis.

The Fleet boss watched Oxford at Sutton on Monday night and described them as “a very good team”, with one of the league’s in-form players in winger Kynan Isaac, a former Luton midfielder.

“I’m expecting similar styles,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “They get forward quickly and they like to dominate the ball, as do we, so it should be a decent spectacle. They’ve got Bradley Bubb who is an ex-teammate of mine at Farnborough, and like Isaac he’s another player who is quick, he holds the ball up well and he has a pretty decent scoring record too. And then they’ve got the five or six Spanish lads in the side too, so it’ll be a tough one for sure.”

Robbie Willmott remains sidelined but otherwise there’s a clean bill of health in the Fleet camp.

Oxford for their part are sweating on the fitness of top scorer Bubb who departed at half-time at Sutton with a hamstring issue, while they named three youth team players to make up the numbers on the bench due to other injuries.

Not that numbers appear to be much of a problem for City who overcame Bishop’s Stortford last Saturday having been down to 10 men on 12 minutes and played most of the second half with just nine. The highest scorers in the league, they have blasted six past Truro and four past Chelmsford without reply on their travels, while last season their 52 away goals was the best in the top six divisions of English football.

With six Spanish players in their squad, City’s model is an interesting one. Manager Justin Merritt and Spanish head coach Enrique Guillen held trials in Spain in the summer to recruit their foreign contingent while Oxford president Thomas Guerriero had brought the City franchise to the United States with a club under the name of Oxford City of Texas (which has since ceased operations). Clearly with big ambitions, Oxford City run 50 teams of various types at youth and ladies’ level, own Oxford City Nomads in the Hellenic League and operate a team in the National Futsal League.

They haven’t appeared at Stonebridge Road since an FA Cup tie in 1998 and the team that will turn up on Saturday is a very different beast to the Ryman League Division One side that lost 3-1 some 17 years ago.

It’s far too early to suggest that the two sides on Saturday will be the only ones slugging it out for top spot in the coming months but a win for the Fleet would certainly give us more breathing space and serve to keep the chasing pack at bay for a while longer.

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