Dr. Martens League Premier Division leaders Weymouth visit the Hoverspeed Stadium on Saturday for what promises to be one of the most entertaining non-league fixtures of the season.
With a sizeable contingent of Weymouth supporters expected, Crabble is likely to see its biggest attendance of the season.
The last six months have seen a remarkable turnaround at the Dorset club. Having avoided relegation by just two points last season, the signing of a big-name player-manager, former Portsmouth, Millwall and Leicester striker Steve Claridge, has brought renewed optimism and confidence to the Wessex Stadium. Crowds are up by over 140% and they have taken advantage of their rivals’ stutterings to open up a five point gap at the top of the division.
Neutrals and Crawley Town fans will be hoping for a home win to keep the title race alive and the Whites will not want to lose ground in this very tight division. A win should put Dover back in the top 5 and third place is a possibility, if other results allow. A defeat could see Athletic drop as low as 11th and would make Conference 2 qualification less certain. Weymouth on the other hand will be hoping to switch their attentions to the FA Trophy next week having built up a commanding eight point cushion in the league.
This match sees the division’s form team playing host to the leaders and champions elect. Dover’s home form is second to none whilst Weymouth have an enviable unbeaten away record.
Excluding the narrow FA Trophy defeat at Barnet that was subsequently overturned by the FA, Richard Langley’s side have won 9 and drawn the other of their last 10 matches in all competitions, registering 8 cleansheets in the process. With only one defeat at the Hoverspeed Stadium in the last 11 months, the Whites have as good a chance as anybody of inflicting Weymouth’s first away defeat since May.
But Tony Browne, Andy Arnott and the rest of the Whites’ vastly improved defence will need to be at the top of their game to deny the prolific Weymouth attack. Twice in the last month the Terras have done what Athletic haven’t done once in 21 years – scored eight goals in a game. First against local rivals Dorchester on Boxing Day, then again in an incredible 8-5 Trophy win over Lewes two weeks ago.
Dover Team News
Athletic manager Richard Langley will be without his righthand man, player-coach Mark Patterson, who is still being plagued by ill health. Defender Dean Readings remains unavailable with a broken ankle, Andy Crofts has returned to Gillingham after two months on loan at Crabble and Simon Glover has gone on loan to Ashford Town. Danny Chapman is available again after suspension and should take Crofts’ place in the starting XI. New signing James Millar will be competing with Darren Davies for the left wing-back position.
Expected Team: Hyde, Browne, Davies, Chapman, Humphrey, Arnott, Day, Spiller, Wilkins, Tyne, Carruthers (Subs: Wietecha, Millar, Skelton, Rogers, Ball).
Weymouth Team News
Whites fans will be denied the chance to see former Premiership star Steve Claridge in action as the Weymouth player-manager and leading scorer is suspended. The Whites won’t have it easy though, Lee Phillips is just one behind his manager in the division’s goal-scoring charts with 12 league strikes this season.
Having conceded five in a remarkable victory against Lewes in the Trophy two weeks ago, Claridge has since moved to strengthen his defence by bringing in Brighton’s experienced Robbie Pethick on loan and signing former Exeter and Tiverton defender Graeme Power. 19-year-old winger Lewis Cook is another very recent addition to the Terras’ squad. He has just signed on loan from Wycombe Wanderers and is expected to make his debut on Saturday.
Weymouth had the edge in last season’s meetings, despite finishing 14 places below the Whites. Their 2-0 win at Crabble in August, with goals from Phillips and Giles, was Dover’s first defeat following their return to the Southern League. It was also Weymouth’s first, and so far only, league victory against Athletic. In April the two sides fought out a goalless draw at the Wessex Stadium during Athletic’s 12-match unbeaten run-in.
Dover hit 10 without reply against the Terras in two league encounters in their record-breaking 1989/90 championship year, including a 7-0 club record victory. They also took four points the following season as Weymouth were relegated to the Southern Division. Weymouth bounced straight back to the Premier Division but fared no better against the Whites in 92/93, losing 3-2 and 2-0 as Athletic wrapped up their second championship and promotion to the Conference.