*BS*Dulwich Hamlet v Dover Athletic
Ryman One South – Sunday 7 January

*BS*Terry White couldn’t have asked for a trickier way to start his tenure as Dover’s caretaker manager. A Sunday fixture in central London away to arguably the best footballing team in the division.*BF*

It is the type of game White would have relished as a player and one he’s sure to be excited by as manager. Having watched clips on DAFCtv of his goalscoring exploits for St. Leonard’s Stamcroft, including one against Dulwich, White was clearly an expressive footballer. It will be hoped by many Dover supporters that he can instil a freedom of expression into Athletic’s attacking play whilst keeping up the impressive defensive record built by Clive Walker.

How White gels with Clive Walker’s squad and whether he is able to get the best out of Dover’s talented strikers will be interesting to view over the next few weeks and crucial for the club as the important winter period rumbles on. A promising Christmas period needs to be backed up with consistency in the tricky January and February months of long-sleeves and muddy goalmouths.

Sunday’s clash is likely to say little about White’s influence on Clive Walker’s squad. A similar performance to last Saturday’s impressive display against a weakened Sittingbourne side would be of great encouragement, especially if Whites’ front pairing of Craig Wilkins and Bradley Spice continue to improve their understanding and link-up play.

This match comes at the same time of year as last season, when the teams played out a dour 0-0 draw at Champion Hill on the first Saturday of 2006. Hamlet’s side is almost unrecognisable from then, however. Gone are ex-White Corey Campbell, ex-Rushden & Diamonds striker Miguel De Souza and the excitable Charley Side. Out of Dover’s 16-man squad that day, only nine remain on the books at Crabble.

Last season Dulwich were a solid but uninspiring team, a marked difference to this season’s outfit. Player-manager Wayne Burnett, 35, has moulded a younger, quicker and much more attacking squad. Easily the best side Whites’ have faced this season, Hamlet were unfortunate to lose 3-1 at Crabble in August. Some poor defending and a goalkeeping blunder by the now departed James Pullen saw a ruthless Dover team take the points.

Following the 3-1 loss at Crabble, Dulwich went on to win eight of the next 10 matches in Ryman One South, losing only to fellow promotion challengers Fleet. At the beginning of November it looked as if Dulwich were unstoppable and were pulling away from the pack. However, November and December have been inconsistent months at Champion Hill as the goals have flowed less frequently. 2006 ended with two 1-0 losses away to Ashford and Croydon Athletic. Suddenly the title race is wide open again.

*Ppic1*Wayne Burnett will be hoping his side can rediscover their goalscoring form against Dover this Sunday. The former Blackburn, Plymouth, Bolton and Huddersfield midfielder has sent out a warning to the rest of Ryman One South by signing talented hotshot and former Dover transfer target Leigh Bremner from Cray. The 23 year-old forward has often impressed Whites’ fans with his long-range shooting ability, scoring three times against Clive Walker’s men last season – two of those from more than 25 yards.

A front pairing of Leigh Bremner alongside the division’s top-scorer Chris Dickson will be more than a handful for Dover’s mean defence on Sunday and should guarantee Hamlet goals aplenty for the rest of the season. Such a signing as Bremner clearly shows that the London club are gunning for top spot.

Dickson has impressed many scouts this season with his pace and eye for goal. Another important player for Hamlet has been goalkeeper Simon Overland. Out with a shoulder injury earlier this season, Dulwich struggled to keep clean sheets. Despite an average display for Ashford at Crabble, when out on loan to regain fitness, Overland has conceded just two goals in the last four matches. Bremner and Dickson will be the names on fans’ lips at Champion Hill come Sunday though and it will be interesting for both sides to see how their partnership starts.

Nightmares of another Bremner bullet finding the top corner aside, Dulwich will pose a very strong test of Whites’ title credentials. Champion Hill has seen only one home defeat this season. It is another match in which both sides would probably be happy to take a point but Dulwich will be keen to inflict a blow to Athletic in the first round of 2007.

Sunday’s affair will mark the midway point in Dover’s season. 20 games have been played by Whites so far and they are currently three points down on last season, when Clive Walker’s men had gained 40 points (right on the two points a game target). In the 31 to 40 games section of last season, a healthy 19 points were gleaned. The title challenge had already gone though because of the 21 to 30 games section, in which only nine points came Athletic’s way.

For Dover to stay in the hunt for promotion to the bitter end in 2007, the next 10 games will be vitally important. Sunday’s match is neither a six-pointer nor a title-decider though. The result shouldn’t take too much importance. A win would be a big boost to Dover’s confidence but it is long-term consistency that Dover need to attain.

*Lpic1*In the 11 to 20 games section both last season and this season Dover had a blip, gaining 15 and 16 points respectively. The task for Terry White is to now make sure that the 12 matches in January and February provide a two points a game average, rather than the 0.9 average per game (10 points from 11 games) in those two calendar months last term. Dover need to have close to 60 points by the end of February, rather than the 50 points they had last year.

A key run of three away fixtures on the trot at Leatherhead, Ashford and Tooting will be a big test and show whether the Dover squad have learned the lessons of last season. With the Leatherhead and Tooting games taking place on Tuesday evenings, an improvement on the one point taken from those two fixtures last year would be very gratefully received. More of that in a few weeks time, when Dover will hopefully be homing in on 50 points.

Suffice to say, we are now approaching the business end of the season. The 12 games of January and February will dictate whether Dover will be one of the two or three teams to battle it out for the title in the Spring. Anything less than 20 points will almost certainly see Dover having to settle for the lottery of the play-offs for the second season running.

Enough statistics! Team news is fairly positive for Dover, considering the awful run of injuries and squad upheaval the club was experiencing a year ago. The only worry for Terry White is the lack of a midfield maestro to create openings in attack, after the departure of Jon Wallis back to Hereford and the injury to Tommy Tyne.

Nicky Humphrey will be favourite to fill the void left by Wallis, with John Keister moving forward into midfield. However, young midfielder Liam Quinn may be given his chance. The imposing battler has impressed in the minor cup matches this season and in his sole league game against Maidstone. He also has a fierce long-range shot in his armoury. I would favour Quinn to replace Wallis due to Keister’s organisational ability at the back, sweeping up between two young centre-backs in Craig Cloke and Matt Bourne.

*Ppic2*After the first double of the season over Sittingbourne last Saturday, Dover could go on a run of four consecutive doubles. Dulwich, Molesey and Croydon Athletic have all lost to Whites earlier in the season and whilst a win at Dulwich may be a tall order, the following home games next Saturday and three days later will be vital to Dover’s points average.

As Terry White told Justin Allen on WhitesLive this week: “Looking at the way the season’s gone so far, it looks to me like the team that’s going to get out of it and win it is the team that decides first of all to go and grab it by the throat and say, ‘We’re going to win it, we’re going to get ourselves 10 points in front and you’ve got to catch us.'”

Sunday will be a test of whether either Dulwich or Dover are ready and/or able to do that yet.


*BF*Former England, Arsenal and West Ham star Ian Wright used to play for Dulwich Hamlet. He was spotted by then Dulwich boss Billy Smith playing on Hackney Marshes and was snapped up.

He ended up having a short spell at the club before joining Crystal Palace.