Xmas cheer for Ebbsfleet

Twas the Saturday before Xmas and my first Saturday game in five weeks. This weekend was a trip home to Kent to visit Ebbsfleet Utd as they hosted Bath City in the National League South.

I worked out it’s been about 16 years since my last visit to Stonebridge Road or the Kuflink Stadium as it is now known that last visit was three more points for Barnet on their way to the title under Paul Fairclough with goals from I believe without checking Liam Hatch, Dean Sinclair and Nicky Bailey.

Whilst the place hasn’t lost much of it’s character it’s clear that if the rest of the stadium follows the front end development it will look one hell of a ground once finished.

I last watched Ebbsfleet under Kevin Watson at Maidenhead before we entered the first lockdown and at the time they were flying and odds on to avoid relegation. As the season finished and was decided by points per game, the Fleet went down by the merest and slightest calculation to the South Division and were in good shape last season when once again it was cut short.

This time around Ebbsfleet are right in the thick of it again and after a few wobbles over the past few weeks appear to be finding their form once again. The top end of the division is very tight with a lot desperate to get out of this division and into the National League top flight.

With both sides missing a host of players and only able to name three substitutes each there was a lot of onus on the starting elevens. The game began at a good pace with Fleet trying a little too hard to force the issue at times while Bath were able to contain the home side with a press high up the pitch on the home side’s defence when playing the ball out from the back.

It was City who had the first real chance to take the lead on 17minutes, Chris Haigh saving well from Cody Cooke and then should have taken the lead less than ten minutes later, after indecision between the Fleet defenders David Sims-Burgess found himself with a free shot at goal but dragged it wide of Haigh’s right hand post.

Just after the half hour mark Sims-Burgess headed straight at Haigh after lacking power to test the keeper, another good chance going begging for the visitors who could have been two goals in front.

The City defence were busy blocking everything Ebbsfleet tried to throw at the them and it looked as if they would be frustrated by the resolute rear guard but a little game of pinball in the Bath penalty area saw the ball eventually land at the feet of Elliott Romain and the striker arrowed the ball past Ryan Clarke for the opening goal a minute before half time.

The second half had only just begun when Romain slipped a lovely little ball into the path of fellow striker Dom Poleon who rounded Clarke and slipped the ball into the net to double the lead.

Whilst Bath were coming to terms with a two goal deficit it got worse just three minutes later, Romain bursting clear of the City defence and while Clarke saved his first shot the striker was on the rebound in a flash and slotted home his second and the third for Ebbsfleet, effectively killing the game off.

Romain had a chance for his hat-trick just before the hour mark but Clarke saved well from the impressive front man whilst the other side of the hour saw Poleon latch onto Ben Chapman’s through ball but Clarke was equal to the shot.

Bath rallied in the final ten minutes but couldn’t create any clear cut chances whilst the hosts were content to soak up any pressure and play on the counter with pace from Poleon and Rakish Bingham who was moved up front after Romain’s substitution.

A comfortable win for the depleted hosts who moved to the top of the table on goal difference ahead of the Xmas and New Year fixtures but with a lot of big games to come and with so few points separating the top seven there are plenty more twists and turns to come.

Romain certainly looked hungry from the start ably assisted by Poleon and with a lack of personnel available Bingham filled in nicely down both flanks in either half.

Had either or both City chances gone in during the first half the crowd of 795 might well have seen a different outcome to the game, fine margins I’m finding in a lot of games I am watching at the moment.

Nice to catch up with Natalie Edwards, who appears to do rather a lot on a matchday, friends we’ve been for a few years and both her and her dad wrote guest pieces for me during that first lockdown, wherever I go there’s always someone to see at a game!

McKimm: Bradford were excellent on the day

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm after his side’s FA Cup exit to League Two Bradford City at the weekend:

TK: Looking back to the FA Cup tie on Saturday, were you a little disappointed or frustrated maybe that the boys couldn’t quite get to grips with Bradford?

SM: No, not really. I knew it would be a tough game and they would have had to have 4 or 5 players having an off day and we would have needed everyone to have a stormer. Bradford were excellent on the day but my lads never gave up.

TK: Did you see it as a compliment to yourselves that they felt they needed to field a full strength team to ensure they progressed to the next round?

SM: Most definitely, they made a host of changes against Oldham on Tuesday night and lost so maybe if they hadn’t had gone so strong on Saturday we may have had a better chance. That will always be a question that can’t be answered unfortunately.

TK: It certainly wasn’t as if Tonbridge didn’t have their chances to score at crucial times in the game, did you feel you had to go for it a bit at times which opened you up at the back?

SM: We had a couple yeah. The free kick which led to their 3rd goal, if that was given to us as it should have been right on the stroke of half time we’d have loaded the penalty area and possibly had a decent chance from that.

That was the goal which really killed off the tie for us and it seemed from then every time we went forward we left ourselves exposed and they punished us for it.

TK: A great occasion for the club, yourself and the players live on TV, but unable to have spectators inside Longmead to watch first-hand, are you hoping that after lockdown we see some progress towards their return?

SM: I hope so for everyone’s sake, supporters need their football. The players and the clubs need them back too, we want to see this happen.

TK: A mention for Bantams fan Jonnie Carrington, a fantastic gesture to set up a JustGiving page which has raised in excess of £6000 at the time of writing for your club, it just goes to show the strength of the football family.

SM: It’s something we didn’t ask for or were expecting to happen, but an unbelievable thing to do that we are grateful for. I’ve spoken to Jonnie a couple of times, he’s an absolute diamond and welcome to Longmead Stadium any time.

TK: How pleased were you to go to Chelmsford 48 hours later and return to Kent with three points give the short turnaround between games?

SM: It was great to get a positive result on Monday night and pleasing that we had a game straight away so the lads didn’t have any time to dwell on Saturday’s result, very pleased.

TK: With a lot of football still to be played this season especially midweek, do you think it’ll be a while until the league table settles down a bit?

SM: After the first ten games are done it starts to give you a bit of reflection in the way things might turn out, but with squads being stretched with a lot of games on top of each other it might take a little longer this time around.