*BS*Heybridge Swifts v Dover Athletic
Saturday 14 October – 3.00pm
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round*BF*

It has been only a year and a half since Dover last visited Scraley Road in the village of Heybridge and Whites fans will be hoping Saturday’s FA Cup clash will have a different outcome.

Dover faced Heybridge twice in the 2004-2005 season in the Ryman Premier, losing 2-1 both times with Chris Wright scoring Whites’ two goals.

Seven current Dover players were present in the first game in September 2004. Nicky Humphrey, Sam Vallance, Shane Hamshare, Craig Cloke, Craig Wilkins and James Rogers for Dover and Darren Smith in goal for Swifts.

I have to admit to having no recollection of this game apart from an ugly brawl just before half-time.

Kevin Harris described the brawl in his match report for the website: “Heybridge defender Daniel Barber must have been angered by what he saw as a late tackle by Cloke, and so kicked out at the home player. He then went on the rampage, throwing punches at anyone who went near him, and ended up kicking the linesman’s flag that was on the ground. He was rightly sent off, but the referee deemed that Dean Readings had done something wrong too, and sent off the Dover defender.”

Heybridge became something of a bogey team for Dean Readings that season when he again fell foul of the officials at Scraley Road in February of 2005.

Clive Walker had come back from Chatham a few weeks beforehand and gained six points from two games. However, I remember Heybridge away as being the point when it turned against Clive and lead to the relegation to Ryman One.

Coming off the back of two league wins and a comprehensive victory over Ashford in the Kent Senior Cup, Whites fans were confident as they travelled in numbers to deepest Essex.

*Lpic1*After receiving a warm welcome in the Swifts’ bar, it wasn’t long before things turned sour and the mood among the travelling fans was severely dampened.

Despite the good work of Clive Walker in his short time in charge, it was clear in Dover’s performance that something wasn’t right in the camp. The previously outstanding Jude Sterling, Dean Palmer and Paul Armstrong didn’t look interested and shortly after this game all three decided to leave the club.

The key moment of the afternoon was just five minutes in. Dean Readings was adjudged by the officials to have deliberately handled the ball in the penalty area, when in fact he was sitting on the floor after a tackle and the ball was blasted at his arm by a Swifts player.

The poor officiating continued as Whites’ game fell apart. Matt Carruthers was replaced by Chris Wright, who produced the only bit of quality for Dover in the game with a well taken goal from eight yards.

The referee had the last word, of course, red-carding Daniel Braithwaite in the dying minutes.

Only Sam Vallance, Shane Hamshare and James Rogers from Dover’s present squad played at Scraley Road. That may well be a blessing, as it was a day to forget for Whites. Despite a few good wins in matches following Heybridge, relegation was almost inevitable.

Heybridge have several players remaining from that season, most notably Stuart Nethercott, the former Tottenham defender, Swifts’ captain and former Dover transfer target Ian Cousins and young Ryman Premier hotshot Richard Jolly, previously of Wealdstone.

Another name familiar to Dover fans will be manager Brian Statham. Statham played for England Under 20’s and Under 21’s, made over 30 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, with Terry Venables giving him his debut.

*Q1*He subsequently moved on to Brentford and then Gillingham, with over 350 professional appearances in total. After injury cut short his professional career, Statham became player-coach under Bob Dowie at Chesham United, where he was influential in the development of players such as Fitz Hall and Wayne Andrews who progressed into the Football League and then the Premiership with Crystal Palace.

Statham is now in his second full campiagn at Scraley Road. Heybridge currently lie 2nd in Ryman Premier, four points behind unbeaten Bromley. They have a good scoring record of two goals a game in a tight league with plenty of draws. They have conceded nine times.

Heybridge started the season with a loss at Ramsgate but wins against Folkestone and Dover’s next Westview Cup opponents East Thurrock kick-started their season. Only Ashford Town (Middlesex) have beaten them since.

Dover can perhaps take some inspiration from Southern League South & West division side Didcot, who forced a replay against Heybridge in the previous round. Swifts were unable to overcome Didcot at Scraley Road, drawing 2-2 in an entertaining match which could have gone either way.

In the end Heybridge proved too strong in the replay, despite Didcot’s home advantage, winning 3-1. Swifts were boosted by the return of first choice keeper Danny Gay and became comfortable winners after Jamie Richards had put them 2-0 ahead. Gareth Heath scored the third before Didcot got a consolation goal just before the end with a 30-yard screamer.

Whites look certain to find Heybridge a much harder nut to crack than 2nd qualifying round opponents Thurrock. However, three goals and a shoot-out penalty in two games for Jimmy Dryden will breed confidence that Dover can shock the favourites and make it one step closer to the coveted 1st Round Proper.

Defender Craig Cloke, speaking to WhitesLive On Demand this week whilst taking a break from his scaffolding job, is confident: “We’ll be the underdogs again, which is good for us because we rise to the occasion.

*Lpic2*”We’ve just got to do our best. I’ll be giving more than anything because of getting sent off on Saturday. I’ll be even more up for it.

“Dover’s in my heart. I want to do the best I can for Dover, especially for the fans. I want to get as far as I can, win as many trophies as I can with Dover, so it would be nice [to get into the First Round Proper].”

There is little to lose for Clive Walker’s men, which showed in the performance at Thurrock and will hopefully help again in Essex.

Still out for Dover are Danny Chapman with a knee problem and Glen Knight with a dislocated finger. Chris Chase could make the bench, after getting injured a fortnight ago at Thurrock.

Suspensions will then kick in for Whites, with John Keister starting a three match ban in the next game (which could be either a cup replay, Leatherhead away on Tuesday or Maidenhead in the FA Trophy next Saturday, depending on cup results).

If the scheduled league game at Leatherhead takes place on Tuesday, it will be a crucial match for Whites to keep up the pressure on Fleet at the top of the table. Leatherhead are a strong side in the hunt for promotion and a win there would give Dover a big advantage over some of their title rivals.

Tomorrow (Saturday), however, is first and foremost for Whites, with £5,000 on offer to the winner of this tie. This amount doubles for the winners of the following round, so there is much to play for at Scraley Road.

Join the White Army as they turn dark blue against the black and white stripes of Heybridge in search of another FA Cup surprise result.