Salford City travel to Ebbsfleet Untied on Saturday hoping to arrest a recent drop in form against the play-off hopefuls.
Three league defeats in February have left us inside the play-offs by a point having started February in second, but with 12 games remaining it would be a good time to turn it around.
The running theme has been teams at the top unable to pick up maximum points and that has opened up the play-offs to a number of teams, including Ebbsfleet who reached the semi-finals last season.
Eventual winners Tranmere Rovers were 4-2 winners at Prenton Park, but the Kent-based club will be hoping to have another crack this season despite a turbulent off-field season. A 14-game run at the back end of last season propelled Fleet into the top seven so they’ve done it before, but it isn’t just teams they are competing against at the minute with Garry Hill’s side facing a significant injury crisis.
Kent Online reported earlier this week that they may have just 12 senior players to choose from, plus their reserve goalkeeper, and Hill has said that he won’t panic buy players if they aren’t right.
Now four points off the play-offs, Ebbsfleet’s season has dramatically picked up since their visit to The Peninsula Stadium in October when they were down in 17th. Not long after that draw manager Daryl McMahon left the club and was replaced by the experienced Hill, and results soon followed with Fleet shooting up into the top half.
Unfortunately though the headlines surrounding Fleet this season have been around off-the-pitch affairs, starting with the announcement of a re-structure, then the revelation that players and staff hadn’t been paid on time in seven out of 10 months, and in December reports that the club were issued with a winding-up petition.
A number of players were sold to try and bring the wage bill down, but it is a credit to Hill and the players that they have put together the run they have. A five-match run over Christmas including a 2-0 win against Leyton Orient in January boosted Fleet’s position, and their home form has significantly improved with seven wins, three draws and seven defeats from 17 a marked improvement on the one win, one draw and six defeats in eight early on. Since their visit to us at the end of October they have lost just two of 11 at home.
Of the current top seven, Ebbsfleet have just us and Wrexham to play and both those games are at home, so Fleet fans may understandably have some belief that they could see a repeat of last season.
Since that win against Leyton Orient it has been a mixed bag for Fleet as they lost their next two league outings at Sutton and against Solihull Moors, when each side had two players sent off in injury time. In addition Fleet’s Dean Rance has since faced a retrospective ban.
They are unbeaten in the last three though, winning 2-1 at Harrogate before back-to-back 0-0 draws against Hartlepool and Barrow. However it might be one area of concern for Hill that his side have scored just twice in their last five league games.
One to Watch – Michael Cheek
27-year-old Cheek signed just before the start of the season from Dagenham & Redbridge and brings with him a distinguished scoring record. It was his goals over the winter period that player a big part in Ebbsfleet’s up-turn in form and he has nine goals in 14 outings.
He wasn’t involved in October’s draw, but he is one to be wary of. Last season he notched 13 in 34 for The Daggers, and according to Ebbsfleet’s website he has averaged 22 goals a season with the likes of Heybridge Swifts, Chelmsford City, Braintree Town and Dagenham. With 10 so far this season, he may have some goals left in him.
As with most sides this season, the reverse fixture is the only time we have met Ebbsfleet. It ended 1-1 after Rory Gaffney cancelled out Corey Whitely’s opening goal within a few minutes.