Saturday sees Wealdstone return to league action with a trip to runaway leaders, and champions-elect, Ebbsfleet. With cup fever gripping the West London side, and a money-spinning tie at home to League One Colchester on the horizon, thoughts have inevitably cast back to the last time Wealdstone made the first round proper, six seasons ago.
This weekend, however, it’s a return to league action and a quick turnaround as the Stones travel to Kent to face the league leaders for the second time this season – and it’s still only October. August’s game between the sides had many of the home fans writing off the Stones before a ball had even been kicked, with an air of inevitability circling The Vale and the expectation that come 5pm that summer’s day, Wealdstone would be reflecting on another defeat. And, true to form, they were.
Despite starting brightly with a Hudson-Odoi first half strike giving the hosts an unexpected half-time lead against the full-timers, they were ultimately undone in the second half with goals from Jordan Parkes and a Danny Kedwell looping header sealing the points for Fleet. Four defeats from the opening five games, it wasn’t pretty reading.
The 100-mile round trip will give supporters time to reflect on Wealdstone’s journey since then: written off after a 5-2 humbling at Sutton but now enjoying their longest winning streak since 2009/10 with six consecutive victories and counting – yes, even the Ryman title winning side failed to win six-competitive matches on the trot and the eery similarity being that Stones last managed the feat when they last featured in round one of the FA Cup.
If Wealdstone match the run of the 2009/10 team – who recorded eight straight victories, they will become only the second side to humble Ebbsfleet in the league this season, and more significantly they will be celebrating a giant killing over Colchester and a place in Round Two.
Wealdstone will also need to do so without Elliott Godfrey, the 32-year old has collected plenty of plaudits for a series of all action displays but misses the next three following his questionable sending off at Havant. That gives Michael Corcoran the chance to come back in from the cold and play in this fixture for the second consecutive season. The midfielder featured in Ebbsfleet red in the 0-0 draw at Stonebridge Road last August.
They’ll be no sign of a skeleton side when Wealdstone travel with places up for grabs in next weekend’s showpiece and with Corcoran getting an opportunity to come in from the cold, he’ll be hoping for a return to form.
Ebbsfleet boss McMahon, who was sent off in the corresponding meeting last season, admitted his side aren’t about to give Wealdstone an easy ride. Speaking to Kent Online this week he said: “We haven’t played at home for a while and I think we owe the home fans a performance from the games we’ve had there so far. I don’t think we’ve quite dominated as much as I’d have liked. We’ve had periods of being outstanding… but I think we owe a 90-minute performance this Saturday.”
And McMahon was quick to acknowledge that Fleet will face a different Stones side to the one they met in August. “It’s against a side who are unbeaten in 12 so they’ll come here and probably try to spoil our game.”
Wealdstone have lost only one of their seven league fixtures since the first meeting, whilst Ebbsfleet could race into a mammoth 12-point lead at the top of the Conference South if they can halt Stones’ good run.
McMahon continued on Stones: “They’re in good form and we know that every single team we play won’t play like they did the previous week.”
With Ebbsfleet looking likely to run away with the championship title, the gaffer recognises that some teams are turning up to stifle them.
His assessment of Chelmsford’s tactics in last week’s 0-0 bore draw at Melbourne Road is probably something they’ll need to get used to.
“The way Chelmsford played against us on Saturday, for instance, with 10 men behind the ball for 90 minutes, they won’t do that against anyone else in our league – so it shows great respect to us.”
Expect the Stones to be no different. Bartlett will well be aware of the task that awaits his side on Saturday andlast year admitted that he set up his Stones side to shut up shop at Stonebridge Park, and courtesy of a Jonathan North penalty save (sound familiar?) the blues came away with a valuable point in the wake of a 0-0 draw.
Is the Conference South boring?
Stats would suggest, yes, it is. 17 times this season have games finished 0-0: the most frequent scoreline thus far.
And if you fancy a flutter on a smash and grab, 0-1 in favour of the away side is the second most common result – 16 matches finishing that way.
We’re in the cup… you ain’t
For all the money Ebbsfleet possess (it’s good to be wealthy!), there’s one thing they don’t have… a stadium that is about to welcome the cast of Football Focus for an exciting broadcast on the BBC next Saturday as part of the Beeb’s efforts to up their coverage of the FA Cup.
A big day awaits…
After Ebbsfleet’s cup exit (humbled by Chelmsford, 2-1) the focus will be on league points and they’ll be out to put a dampener on the biggest week in Wealdstone Football Club’s recent history. Fleet top the form guide (6 wins from previous 8) but for anyone expecting a formality the Stones’ six games without league defeat is bettered only by Truro (7) and Oxford City (8).
With places up for grabs in next Saturday’s cup game, this game provides the perfect dress rehearsal for the Stones – and they’ll be bang up for it.
For Fleet, former Dover star Dean Rance returns from injury to shore up their midfield, whilst ex-football league winger Robbie Willmott remains sidelined. Stones will miss Elliott Godfrey, their most consistent performer in the middle of the park, with Corcoran the most likely to plug the gap. You can be assured he’ll be fired up against his former club but Ebbsfleet possess quality all over the park and you’d fancy them to recover from a minor blip in form. They couldn’t possibly lose three home games on the trot, could they? Home win. 2-1.