*BS*A 2-0 defeat at The Camrose at the weekend ended a run of eight consecutive matches undefeated for Dover Athletic, as goals from Andrew Jenkinson and Matt Partridge also ended a four-game streak of clean sheets in the Skrill South – a defensive effort last managed six seasons ago.*BF*
Basingstoke were the side that ended Dover’s twelve match unbeaten run last season, so the warning signs were there – but the nature of this defeat, in which Whites never really threatened, was disappointing.
Attentions swiftly turn to the visit of Eastleigh on Tuesday night, and it is harder to envisage a tougher side to face in this division. The Hampshire side were priced up as heavy favourites to win the league at the start of this season, and their impressive start to this campaign has seen these odds shorten. With 27 points from their opening 13 games, they currently sit in second position, one point behind Bromley.
With Bromley facing an out-of-sorts Chelmsford City side on Tuesday, Richard Hill’s Eastleigh side know they will most likely need to pick up all three points against Dover if they are going to have any chance of claiming top spot.
Whilst their home form has been very impressive – five wins and two draws from seven games, and just two goals conceded – Eastleigh’s form on the road has been indifferent, winning three and losing two of their games on their travels.
Those defeats came at Basingstoke Town, where they suffered the same 2-0 defeat as Dover on Saturday, and Ebbsfleet United. The two much-fancied teams this season clashed last month, with goals from ex-Whites pair Billy Bricknell (two) and Darryl McMahon sealing a 3-1 defeat.
This vulnerability away from home will give Whites some hope of picking up all three points on Tuesday, but Dover’s under-par performances at home this season will not help their cause – winning just two out of six at Crabble, and scoring only four goals, means a tight game can be expected and it is one that could feasibly have any outcome.
Despite the two goals conceded at Basingstoke, Whites do still have the joint-best defensive record in the Skrill South – a record now shared with Sutton United and Eastleigh – with just nine goals conceded thus far.
Previous matches between the two sides have largely ended in Whites’ favour. The last eight regular-season clashes have ended in seven wins for Dover and one for Eastleigh, an impressive head-to-head record by any side’s standards, especially when it is against a club who have more often than not finished in the top eight of the Conference South during their eight seasons within it.
Of course, the last two meetings came in last season’s play-off semi-final. Travelling to Silverlake Stadium for the first leg, by virtue of their superior finishing position, goals from Moses Ademola, Ben May and Darryl McMahon saw Dover win 3-1 and take a comfortable lead back to Kent for the second leg.
As predicted, however, the second leg was never going to be easy. Knowing they had to win by two goals to have any chance of progression, this cushion was achieved within 90 minutes thanks to strikes from ex-Dover midfielder Glen Southam and Damian Scannell – the latter coming deep into injury time, and sending the match into extra time.
Neither side could find a goal in the additional thirty minutes, and it was goalkeeper Mitch Walker who was Whites’ hero in front of the 1,662 in attendance as he made two excellent saves in a penalty shootout which the hosts won 4-2.
As well as the previously mentioned Southam, Tuesday’s clash will see goalkeeper Ross Flitney return to Crabble, and Eastleigh are a side who strengthened very well over the summer. Most notably is with the signing of Stuart Fleetwood, the Welsh striker who scored 21 goals in 67 games for Skrill Premier side Luton Town during a two-year spell.
Eastleigh’s capture of Fleetwood raised many eyebrows within the non-league game, and affirmed an already-growing belief that the side would challenge for honours this season. With five goals so far, the 27-year-old ex-Cardiff City hitman’s eye for goal is as evident as ever.
Other notable members of the Eastleigh side with Football League experience include defenders Chris Todd, Damian Batt, Dean Beckwith and Mike Green, midfielders Jamie Collins, Will Evans and Romone Rose, and strikers Craig McAllister, Yemi Odubade and Ben Strevens.
Dover midfielder Ricky Modeste, who has arguably been the side’s most consistent player this season, is likely to miss Tuesday’s game, as he struggles to overcome the hamstring injury picked up in the FA Cup against Oxford City last weekend. Modeste’s guile and creativity was much missed in Saturday’s defeat against Basingstoke, leaving manager Chris Kinnear with a decision to make as to his replacement.
On Saturday, Liam Bellamy got the nod and put in a reasonable performance, although Kinnear may choose to go with a more natural replacement in the shape of Moses Ademola, who has struggled to get game time this season but would be desperate to line up against the side he signed for Dover from last season.
*BS*Please note: Heavy rain is forecast for the area across much of Monday and Tuesday, so the game is likely to be subject to a pitch inspection on Tuesday – please check doverathletic.com for further news when it becomes available.*BF*