*BS*DOVER ATHLETIC have overcome, or simply ignored, many precedents under the management of Andy Hessenthaler and Darren Hare this season.*BF*
Met Police had been victorious at Crabble on both of their previous visits in 05/06 and 06/07, yet Whites swaggered to a 5-2 home win earlier this season. The November stumble followed by January and February nightmare of the previous two years was also disregarded as results have remained consistently positive throughout, barring a four-game blip at the turn of the year.
Another vital change has been the ability to take points against the top teams. Losses against Tooting (away), Fleet (twice), Dulwich (away) and Met Police (twice), as well as draws that should have been wins against Hastings (away), Dartford (twice) and Maidstone (away), prevented Whites from winning the title quite comfortably last season.
Under Hess and Hare wins have been gained against every side currently in the top seven of Ryman South and of course there have been no losses against any side currently in the top 17.
One more precedent to be overcome this season could be achieved tomorrow (Saturday). Dover haven’t managed a goal, let alone a win at Leatherhead in the past few years. In 05/06 Whites should have won but that game will be remembered for Danny Chapman’s mindless sending off which ruled him out of the play-off final at Tonbridge. Last season stand-in boss Terry White admitted to being happy with a 0-0 draw, and Dover never looked interested in going against that.
Happier days we are fortunate to be in, however, and it will no doubt be just another game for Hess’s men in their journey to, as John Keister described it earlier this week, “what everyone wants”.
On both previous visits to Fetcham Grove, Leatherhead have looked lively going forward and happy to play the offside trap to its limit at the back. The main protagonists in attack will be the same this weekend. Dave Stevens, recently returned from Met Police, will try to hold the ball up for the Tanners and utilise his unconventional style in the pursuit of goals. He scored at Crabble in the aforementioned 5-2 beating of Met Police in October.
*Ppic1*The Tanners tend to focus their forward play through the talented feet of Steve Sargent on the right wing. A target for several clubs last season including Dover, he is the son of Dave Sargent, who figured in the club’s famous FA Cup run in 1975.
Leatherhead are likely to be a tough nut to crack but they have been lower-mid-table fodder throughout a disappointing season. Having finished 10th and 11th in the previous two seaons, the Tanners were expected to fight for a play-off place this time. However, a lack of squad depth and an inability to ripple the net has held them back. At home Leatherhead have been particularly dour, scoring just 18 times in 17 matches.
The return of Frannie Collin to the starting line-up will provide Athletic with increased confidence ahead of Saturday’s trip and the visit of Ashford to White Cliffs country on Monday afternoon. Collin scored two goals of a quality rarely seen at this level in Dover’s 2-1 win on a mud-heap of a pitch at Homelands on Boxing Day.
Whites have been indebted to their top goalscorer in several tight matches this season. Hessenthaler though will have been pleased to see Shaun Welford take on the mantle of match-winning goalscorer in recent weeks whilst Collin has eased back to fitness after a hamstring strain.
Welford and Collin will continue to develop their partnership, as well as their link-up play with new boy James Simmonds, this weekend. The signs for the front pair were promising last Saturday when they combined after three minutes to put Dover 1-0 up. Using their individual qualities, very different to each others, to great effect; Collin spun away from his marker tight to the byline in trademark fashion and chipped a beautiful cross to the near-post, where Welford used his physical presence to leap past a defender and thump in a diving header.
Dover’s options in all areas of the pitch haven’t looked better and more varied for many a year. This is highlighted by the current injury situation. How many teams at this level could play to such a consistently high standard without three players of the quality of Craig Wilkins, Lee Browning and Alan Pouton. Add in James Rogers and Craig Cloke, and you have a list of five first-team regulars unavailable to Hessenthaler last weekend.
*Lpic1*The players who have replaced them have grabbed their chance though. Laurence Ball has been commanding in the air and more than comfortable in possession, playing beyond his years at the back. Young reserve Steve O’Brien also showed in his brief cameo last Saturday that he has the ability on the ball to stake a claim for a place in the first team squad next season.
Ashford’s ex-Dover contingent will no doubt be keen to prevent any chance of early celebrations for Athletic this season. Their Easter Monday visit should attract a four-figure crowd for a game important for both teams.
Steve Lovell’s side are still clinging onto the hope of a play-off berth and their recent form is good, having beaten Met Police and Walton & Hersham in their last two games. Seven former Whites appeared in both squad’s. Nicky Humphrey and Daniel Braithwaite have been regulars at full back, whilst Danny Lye is currently being deployed at centre back. Anthony Hogg has arrived from Sittingbourne to add some more creativity in midfield, while Mark Lovell is of course up front. Walid Matata and Tony Browne have been on the subs bench.
Key to Dover’s title prospects will be the continued defensive stability and dominance in midfield. Pouton and Hessenthaler are likely to share the load this weekend, with two games in three days too much for either of them at present. Leatherhead and Ashford will have to be at their best, you would think, to see a lot of the ball.
Tooting’s postponed match this afternoon (Friday) means that the title race is certain to go on beyond Easter Monday but a good pair of results for Dover would put the finishing line firmly in their sights.