*BS*WHITES will hope to extend their unbeaten run over the festive period at a time when surprise results are the norm.*BF*
January is a month when many of the top sides face each other so if Dover can overcome a couple of Kent derbies next week unscathed, they will be in an enviable position going into 2008.
The festive period may have a surprise up its sleeve, however. Boxing Day, in particular, often throws out the form book.
In a festive round-up of past Christmas matches, Guardian Unlimited this week published the following set of First Division results from Boxing Day 1963:
Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea
Burnley 6-1 Manchester United
Fulham 10-1 Ipswich Town
Leicester City 2-0 Everton
Liverpool 6-1 Stoke City
Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield United
West Bromwich Albion 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-3 Aston Villa
West Ham United 2-8 Blackburn Rovers
On Boxing Day last season Dover had two points snatched out of their grasp in the dying minutes by Hastings in yet another one of those exasperating Ryman South matches of old. Anything can happen in the period of Christmas feasts, much mulled wine and knitted jumpers from your Auntie.
Whites are looking strong though. Last Saturday’s tussle against Cray was far from pretty but a good result against a side which is increasingly tough to beat. Matt Fish was a casualty, however, dislocating a shoulder. The young defender has been one of the unsung heroes at the back this season and will be hard boots to fill.
*Lpic1*Star midfielder Jon Wallis is the likeliest to take the right back berth, having done so when Fish went off at Bromley. Andy Hessenthaler should take his place in midfield, unless the player-boss has any further calf problems. If so, Craig Cloke could be pushed up-field.
The returning Laurence Ball could also be an option at right back, after his spell with Ryman Premier club Ramsgate. Hessenthaler is unlikely to want to risk bringing someone ‘new’ in at this time though. Another defensive option back at Crabble is Liam Quinn, who has spent a month on loan Whitstable.
The return of Quinn to Dover is a big blow for the Oystermen. Whites’ opponents at SeaFrance Crabble on Saturday, December 29 have struggled defensively this season and Quinn has impressed at the heart of their back-line adding some much-needed aggression. Whitstable’s form has picked up a little in recent weeks, putting in a strong performance at home to Chatham in a 3-0 victory. They look more comfortable in possession than they did in August but fragility at the back is still a major concern.
Dover will be keen to keep the goals flowing on home turf, where they have been in a hot streak of form recently. This Saturday’s opponents are Horsham YMCA, another club whose form has improved since Hess’s men won 5-1 back in August. Whites will hopefully make sure that YMCA’s 2-1 home victory against Walton & Hersham remains the high point of the first half of their season, which concludes this weekend.
YM picked up their first away win of the season last Saturday, beating Croydon Athletic 2-1. This weekend’s match will be the biggest crowd to watch YMCA this season – the biggest so far was 383 on Dover’s trip to Horsham on the first day. Goalkeeper Dean Ruddy will no doubt be disappointed to miss out on playing against his old club.
All Whites’ festive opponents are languishing in the bottom half of the table but Boxing Day’s trip to Ashford is certain to be a tough task. The Nuts and Bolts were abject in both games against Dover last season but the same cannot be expected this time round, Ashford having brought in a number of experienced players.
*Lpic2*Centre back Sean Ray, skipper of Hastings last season, has steadied the ship a little in defence since he signed last month. His partner at the back is Nicky Humphrey, who is one of eight ex-Dover players now plying their trade at Homelands.
Full backs Tony Browne and Danny Braithwaite have returned from injury. Walid Matata, Danny Lye and Kevin Lott are all regulars in the Ashford squad too. Mark Lovell will play up front against his former club, where he scored five league goals earlier this season.
One man unlikely to feature is former Dover captain Lee Spiller. Having injured his knee in September, Spills returned to the Ashford line-up against Tonbridge last week but a recurrence of the injury means he will probably be out for a while. His unavailability could be construed as either good or bad news for Dover going into the game. As it is the season of goodwill, I will come down on the side of ‘good news’.
As ever, Dover will be aiming to get the full nine points from the three matches. However, a draw or even two draws would not be the end of the world. Going into 2008 having lost only once in the league would be an outstanding achievement, however many points are on the board.