Eastbourne Borough head west to Chippenham this weekend in search of points, and momentum, as they look for National South security.
The Sports have a comfortable 12-point buffer against the relegation places, and are eight points off Welling United in sixth. So is boss Jamie Howell looking upwards, or glancing over his shoulder?
“Onward ever upward,” chuckled Jamie. “Every manager, player and fan has a sight of where they want to be – and that’s always a bit higher than where you are! No club has a divine right, but we have more than enough about us to stay clear of trouble.
“There is a bit of a scrap developing among about four or five clubs in the drop zone and I think we will leave them to it. We are still very much part of that mid-table cluster, and we need to get some momentum.
“December started well, finished well, and the middle was dismal. We were under-achieving but we were not losing games 5-0. When you are creating but not scoring, it’s frustrating, but you always know you can turn that round. We were well worth the win against Dulwich on New Year’s Day, and now I want to build on that.”
Howell has rung the changes in his squad – surprising some supporters by sending experienced players like Yemi Odubade and Mike West out on loan, while bringing in fresh faces. Too many changes? “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t! I’d love to have a starting eleven in August which plays every game till April, but that is not reality.
“Mark Smith wanted away and goes with our good wishes, but I already had an excellent goalkeeping replacement lined up in Sam Howes. And I had been looking hard for another front man who – as Alfie Rutherford did in the autumn – can come in and give us a stronger presence up top. Joe Quigley can do exactly that. I’m really pleased that Joe has agreed to join us from Bromley, and he made a real difference against Hamlet.
“These two guys are quality players who add to what we have, and I think they complete the jigsaw. Watford are happy for Sam to stay till the end of the season, and we will see where we are with Joe after an initial month. But it’s win-win really.”
The seasonal fixtures at Dulwich and Woking saw the Sports playing in front of almost six thousand spectators, but this weekend brings a longer and less glamorous trip. Chippenham Town, a long haul away down the M4, are a modest club holding their own nicely in mid-table. And their success is rooted in a strong home record.
“It isn’t the easiest place to go,” admits Howell. “Chippenham have no glory-boys, they play to their strengths, and you have to meet them on their terms.” The Wiltshire side’s homely ground has a sloping pitch and, in wintry mid-season, a less than perfect playing surface. The Bluebirds have notched some notable victories, although they were taken apart on Tuesday, 5-0, at high-riding neighbours Bath City.
The Bluebirds have lost only twice this season at Hardenhuish Park (there's a football ground name to savour) and Borough have been turned over before on visits there. But the Sports actually have a marginally better away record than at home, so Jamie's squad will travel down the M4 in good spirits. A Friday night frost is forecast, but Saturday itself will be relatively mild, so the game should go ahead without problems.
“We play each game on its own terms, of course,” says the Gaffer. “But it’s about us, not the opponents. Let’s pick up from the Dulwich game, build ourselves a nice little January run and see where 2019 takes us!”
Updated 22:29 - 4 Jan 2019 by Kevin Anderson