Salford City host Havant & Waterlooville at The Peninsula Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the first reverse fixture of the season, and with the halfway point nearing.
It has been a largely successful first season in The National League so far with only two games lost in the opening 22 and they were back in August away at Gateshead and Sutton United.
One strength in particular has been home form with The Ammies unbeaten (W8 D3) in the league at The Peninsula Stadium, one of 11 teams in the top six tiers to retain such a record.
Fellow National League newcomers Havant find themselves more towards the other end of the table in 19th as they look to stay in the league in their first season.
A National League South side for a number of years, the Hawks were relegated to the Isthmian League in 2015-16 but have won back-to-back championships to lift them into non-league’s top tier for the first time.
They were thrust into the spotlight during the 2007-08 season when they reached the FA Cup Fourth Round and a trip to Liverpool having beaten Swansea City in a replay, when Roberto Martinez dubbed them a ‘pub team’. They lost out 5-2 at Anfield despite taking the lead, but the proceeds from that have helped them develop the club’s infrastructure to compete in the league.
Manager Lee Bradbury has been in charge since 2012 and has a consistent core of players who have been at the club for a number of years.
It’s probably a fair assessment to say that if The Hawks stay in The National League it’s a good season for them in light of being one of the league’s only part-time clubs. At the moment they are managing that, albeit with one point separating them and Chesterfield who are just in the relegation zone.
As with a lot of promoted teams into new leagues, home form is the platform from which to build on and The Hawks have done that well picking up four wins and three draws in their 11 games at Westleigh Park this season. The worry is on the road where they only have one win and two draws from 11 and have conceded the most goals (28).
A surprise defeat away at Met Police in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup means there will be no underdog heroics from The Hawks, but it does mean they can focus on league survival.
They only managed one win from their opening eight games, against Braintree Town who were also promoted from the National League South last season, and then just one more until the end of October. However their worst run of games without a league win this season (eight) was followed by their best run of form which consisted of three wins and a draw from four.
They also scored 14 goals – including seven against Maidenhead United who had goalkeeper Carl Pentney sent off in the first half – in that run which equates to not far short of their total this season.
Unfortunately for Bradbury that run came to an end on Tuesday night away at Dagenham & Redbridge, a defeat which he wasn’t afraid to admit afterwards that Havant “deserved”.
One to watch – Jonah Ayunga
The striker signed on loan from Sutton United after the departure of Alfie Pavey to Dover Athletic, and has made an impression by scoring two goals in his last two games to take his National League season tally to four.
He scored twice in Sutton colours including the winner away at Leyton Orient in September that let Salford take top spot for the first time this season.
The only game between these sides was back in August when we came away from Westleigh Park with a point in a 1-1 draw. The now-departed Pavey scored the opening goal before top scorer Adam Rooney equalised later in the first half.