*BS*THE BATTLE of the in-form sides will be staged at SeaFrance Crabble on Saturday when Whites take on one of their closest title rivals Worthing.*BF*
While nothing is won or lost in December, a Dover victory would see them move 12 points clear of Worthing, who have made it clear that they are gunning for top spot.
After a faltering start, the Rebels are putting together a strong run of results. They currently lie in 5th place, nine points behind Dover with two games in hand.
Worthing have won eight of their last nine league games, dropping just two points (at home to 3rd placed Cray). Last Saturday they beat Kingstonian 2-0 at home, a match that Dover boss Andy Hessenthaler watched after Whites’ game at Walton Casuals was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
Hess spoke to doverathletic.com earlier this week and said of Worthing: “We saw them play at the weekend, Darren and myself. It’s going to be a really good test for us.
“They’ve got a really young side, a little bit of experience at the back. We were impressed with them when they beat Kingstonian. They’ve got a number of ex-pros, I think, released from Brighton.
“It will be a real good test for us but if we’re on our game I believe we’ll be good enough to win the game. Let’s hope we can make it eight wins on the bounce.”
*Q1*Worthing have also had a couple of players on loan from League One Brighton in the opening two months of the campaign. When they returned to Withdean it was thought Worthing might struggle but the south coast side have gone from strength to strength.
A tight defence has been key so far to the Rebels’ winning streak, having conceded just 10 goals in 14 league games. Goalkeeper Rikki Banks has recently been rewarded with the Ryman South Golden Gloves award for November.
Skipper Ben Andrews and goalscorer Ben Johnson have received the plaudits in recent weeks, both scoring hat-tricks in the past few games. Andrews is a former Brighton centre back, who likes to get forward and was their leading goalscorer last season in Ryman Premier.
Saturday’s game at Crabble will arguably be Worthing’s biggest test so far this season, a match which gives them the opportunity to narrow the gap between themselves and Dover to six points with two games in hand. More of a six-pointer for Worthing than Dover, perhaps, as they are the team playing catch-up.
In the summer when it appeared Worthing may be reinstated to the Ryman Premier division, boss Alan Pook said on their official website: “We will be playing with a young side and this [Ryman Premier] will be a much tougher division. The standard of the division below [Ryman South] is much lower and it would have given the young players more time to settle in. I could virtually guarantee promotion from the division below.”
Dover have put themselves in a very healthy position in the table with Monday night’s 2-0 victory against Walton & Hersham, who are now 14 points behind Whites in 8th place.
Andy Hessenthaler reviewed the game when speaking to doverathletic.com editor Justin Allen earlier this week. Whites’ boss said: “Seven wins now on the bounce in the league. For all our dominance in the first half, we only scored two which was a shame.”
Dover had the lions share of possession throughout the game, particularly in a dominant first half. However, it took a piece of instinctive quality from man of the match Jon Wallis to open the scoring.
Hess said: “I thought Wallis was terrific in the first half. His goal was the best we’ve seen at Crabble this season. Hell of a strike. His confidence levels look very high. I think Alan Pouton maybe brings the best out of him. Alan brings people into the game, the way he passes the ball.
“Pouts made a big impact in the first half. He was struggling before the game. He had stitches in his ankle, he was black and blue on his other leg from that game against Sutton so we took a risk on him really.
“He did struggle second half but he’s got minutes in his legs, which was important. First half he was the main instigator of most of our passing moves. Pleased to have him back, he’s going to be a big player for us, especially with the period coming up.
“November and December is a big time for us because over the years it’s not been very good for Dover. In November we had four wins and let’s hope we can have a really good December as well.”
Dover will need to keep their shooting boots on for tricky games against Worthing, Cray, Ashford and Whitstable this month. Striker Jimmy Dryden was awarded the Ryman South Golden Boot for his six league goals in November but didn’t get the rub of the green on Monday.
Hessenthaler said: “I think the Golden Boot jinxed Jimmy a little bit! He had a number of chances that in November he would have tucked them away but it didn’t happen for him. The lad’s got lots of confidence. Credit to him, it looks like he’s enjoying his football. He’s just got to keep that going.”
*Q2*Shaun Welford endured some frustration in front of goal too on Monday, hitting the post with a header from a couple of yards out but the powerful striker didn’t have to wait long to get on the score-sheet as he netted just a minute later.
Hess said: “He gives us something different, Shaun. He’s more of a battering ram, an old fashioned centre forward. The one he scored was a good finish, he got across the near post – good ball from Jimmy. The one he missed, when he’s hit the post, he should have scored. He knows that.
“I’m pleased with his all-round game. He got tired in the end but that’s because he hasn’t played for a couple of weeks. He just gives us something different up front, which is nice to have.”
Currently on the injury sidelines for Whites are goalkeeper Dean Ruddy, who hopes to be back in contention within a fortnight, and forward Lee Browning. During Ruddy’s absence Dover have been fortunate to call upon Crystal Palace’s 3rd choice goalkeeper David Wilkinson on loan. The youngster has conceded just four goals in six appearances, two of which were against Sutton in the FA Trophy.
Wilkinson’s loan spell is due to run out after Saturday but Hessenthaler is hoping that Crystal Palace will extend it: “I will know on Thursday whether we’ve got him. I want to take him for another month, he’s been fantastic for us.
“I’ve spoken to Jim Stannard at Palace. I know him really well, he was at Gillingham with me. He’s going to speak to Neil and Neil’s having a think on it. Hopefully we might get him right through December as well, which would be fantastic. If that’s the case that will be good news for us.”
*Ppic2*Whites have several weeks now without midweek league matches, which the Dover boss believes will be useful to build up fitness for the weeks and months to come.
Hessenthaler said: “We looked a bit leggy in the end (of Monday’s game). I think some of the players who’ve come from the league clubs, i.e. Frannie Collin, Wallis, Matt Fish, Sam Gore, the difference for them is they’re only doing two nights (training) a week so they’ve got to get on top of their fitness levels I feel. That means they have to do a bit themselves during the week. We talked about that and we will be monitoring their fitness levels because pitches are getting heavier.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks where we’ve got free midweeks so we’ll be working on their fitness levels on Tuesday nights because of the Christmas period coming up.
“It’s a long season, pitches become heavier and we’ve got to have the legs to get through that. If we’re going to win this league, as much as we’re a very good footballing side, we’ve got to be the fittest side as well.”