*BS*Dover will be well-advised to expect anything from their trip to Ashford on Saturday. The Nuts and Bolts are consistently inconsistent but have given several promotion-chasing sides a scare in recent weeks.*BF*

Since being thrashed at Crabble in December, Ashford have beaten Dulwich and Met Police, drawn with Sittingbourne and lost narrowly to Fleet and Dartford. When you look at their squad, you can understand why they are able to trouble such teams but struggle to win consistently.

As well as conceding their fair share of goals, Ashford have struggled to find the net in many games. Signing former Dover and Folkestone striker Walid Matata, his friend James Frazer and former Tonbridge front-man Steve Sodje should help in that department. Matata’s fellow ex-Whites Matt Carruthers and Simon Glover have had little impact in attack it seems, and Glover is presently plying his trade at left back.

The defensive situation could have been improved significantly had Graham Porter, formerly of Margate and Gravesend, been able to play more games this season. The experienced centre-back should give Ashford the authority they so badly lacked at Crabble in December. Why Anthony Allman has been played in midfield for much of the season when his talents are all defensive is a mystery that compounds the feeling that Ashford have been underachieving.

Other former Dover players at Homelands include Marc Cumberbatch, Kevin Lott, George Fenwick and Lee Ealham. An undoubtedly improved team from when the sides met two months ago and a much tougher afternoon should be expected, particularly with the pressure to win on Dover’s shoulders more than Ashford’s.

*Lpic1*That pressure to win will partly stem from two successive draws but also from the awareness that Tuesday night’s fixture at Tooting & Mitcham’s impressive Imperial Fields Stadium will be a very stern test of Whites’ resolve.

Tooting ended Dover’s winning streak at the beginning of last season and while both squads will look quite different to that fixture, in form Tooting will provide a strong test of Whites’ defensive ability. After a slow start to the season, Tooting are scoring for fun at present. Striker Paul Vines is in a rich vein of form and has been rewarded with a new contract.

An impressive 3-1 home win against promotion rivals Maidstone United last Saturday is an indication of their current form, though Stones’ joint-boss Lloyd Hume told the Kent Messenger: “Our recent performances have not been up to standard. I think that our defeat at Tooting had been coming for some time as we hadn’t deserved to win all of the previous three or four games.”

Tooting won 4-0 on Tuesday at Croydon Athletic to continue their scoring form. 13 points from their last six games is promotion form and with games in hand over the top six, the black-and-white stripes could be a force in the run-in.

Tooting may be similar to Leatherhead, where Terry White decided not to risk losing a point by going for a win in the 2nd half but with Dover’s home record weakened by a number of draws and about to be severely tested by Maidstone and Dartford, playing safe away from home may only guarantee a play-off place come the end of the season.

*Ppic1*Whites will be boosted by the return of Craig Cloke from suspension this weekend. Craig Wilkins may be slotted in up front alongside Jimmy Dryden, allowing Tommy Tyne to exert his creative influence in midfield. Bradley Spice is another option for caretaker boss Terry White in attack. Spice’s ability to hold up the ball and keep possession was missed at Leatherhead when he was sacrificed for more solidity in midfield.

The top sides all have tricky fixtures this weekend so it’s an opportunity for Dover to remove pressure from upcoming home games with strong away performances. Banking on drawing away and winning at home may not a safe option for Terry White if Dover are not able to break teams down and take the three points at Crabble.

Whether Dover can afford a succession of draws with plenty of top-of-the-table clashes remaining is a question only those crucial games will answer. Improving on last season’s two away losses against Ashford and Tooting would at least keep Whites in the hunt.