*BS*WHITES will hope to stretch their winning run on Saturday at promotion-chasing Cray Wanderers in another top-of-the-table clash for Andy Hessenthaler’s team.*BF*
Dover will come up against an in-form side, which seems to be the present theme, for what promises to be a tough encounter.
Cray seem to be finding their feet after an inconsistent start to the season and more secure at the back than when Whites won more comfortably than the 3-2 scoreline suggests at Crabble in August.
The presence of holding midfielder Danny Chapman in their starting line-up is undoubtedly one reason for the improved defensive record. Despite being a player who split opinion during his years with Dover, Chapman arguably drove Whites to the Ryman One play-offs in 2006. His determination and will to win is a key strength but also his main weakness too.
This was evident on any number of occasions in a Dover shirt. Away to Weymouth during that awful slide down the Southern Premier table in 2004 and last season’s never-to-be-forgotten clash with Anton Innocent being prime examples. In keeping with this character trait, ‘Chappers’ undid his string of forceful displays in 2006 by lashing out at a Leatherhead player on one of those horrid nights away in the Clive Walker reign, suspending himself from the all-important play-off ties.
He will no doubt relish Saturday’s clash with Whites’ excelling midfield trio. John Keister will effectively ‘return’ from a one match ban that the Dartford Kent Senior Cup reserve outing took care of, adding a bit of spark no doubt to the midfield contest. The last time the two played alongside each other was that contentious game against Godalming last season. Let’s hope Whites do not see red this weekend.
Other key men for Cray will include former Maidstone centre back Ryan Royston, who, despite being vulnerable to pace, is a rugged defender and was renowned last season at Maidstone for scoring headers from set pieces.
The Wood brothers, Jamie and Lewis, continue to score plenty of goals for manager Ian Jenkins’ attacking outfit. Michael Power and George Fenwick also provide some strength and movement that should keep the Dover back-line on its toes.
Making the Cray side tick is usually young midfield play-maker Ross Lover and it will be interesting to see how he fares against Alan Pouton and company in a congested midfield with stronger players.
There is some more experience for Cray to call upon in last season’s no.1 at Crabble Glen Knight and former Kingstonian left back Colin Luckett. What they lack in pace, they tend to make up in experience. Dover should be keen to test that with some movement, pace and pressure from the likes of Frannie Collin at the weekend though.
It was Collin who glided through the Worthing defence last Saturday time and time again, scoring twice and providing Welford with the other goal. Those who stayed at home missed some delightful interplay between the young forward and Jon Wallis in particular.
However, the 2-0 victory against Walton & Hersham the previous Monday proved that Dover can win and entertain when Collin is not on song. Looking jaded, Frannie was a peripheral figure in a comfortable win against a team who have lurched from a strong run to a nightmare in recent weeks. Other players are there to steal the show if their team-mates are not quite at the races. Dover fans eagerly await the game when they all click together.
Let us not get carried away here though. Dover have worked hard to put themselves in a strong position at the top of the table. However, the club has been there before in previous seasons – later in the fixture list than 17 games – and surrendered its lead.
Last season Dover had tough spells in November and December but the titanic damage was done in January and February with losses against Dulwich, Tooting, Maidstone, Met Police and Molesey. Last January Dulwich looked absolutely nailed on for the title until they sold their leading goalscorer.
As for this season, Dover have yet to play a current top eight club away from home. That will change on Saturday and there are a lot of twists and turns possible yet in a title race that doesn’t usually take shape until February.
Finally, team news is good for Hessenthaler. Goalkeeper Dean Ruddy came through Tuesday’s match at Princes Park well and loan stopper David Wilkinson will stay for another month. Lee Browning and Hessenthaler himself are still a week away from fitness, however.