Welcome to April: a tense, twitchy month that sees the end of this long, winding road.
So here we are, the home straight. Six games to go, no more distractions, the finish line starting to come into view.
And we start in Kent, to a ground few here have ventured to. Chatham Town have been imperious on their home patch this season (played 16, won 12, drawn 4), yet as the teams placed 2nd and 3rd step out tomorrow, both begin on level ground.
The Hawks arrive on the back of a four-game winning streak, boast the best form in the league and are breathing heavily down ‘The Chats’ neck: three points adrift with a game in hand.
But in the other corner our familiar hosts have enjoyed a sparklingly consistent campaign. And they’ll want to return the favour dealt to them just a couple of weeks ago at The Enclosed Ground.
Last time out
It was rainy and grey but arguably the finest afternoon of them all for the Hawks this season as they steered beyond a stubborn Cray Valley PM side with a 2-0 victory.
On what would have been Connor Saunders’ 30th birthday, his entire family were present to celebrate his life, and a stoppage in the 5th minute permitted all those present to applaud in his honour.
But on the field the game was tight, tetchy; few chances carved by the hosts yet Charlie Harris would be firing them into a first half lead after striking cleanly into the bottom-left corner on the half volley moments from the break.
Cray Valley, who sat in 5th just two points adrift of the Hawks, rattled the crossbar and threatened with frequency as Luke Glover just about did enough to preserve the clean sheet.
And in the final minute substitute Charlie Lambert sealed the win after harrying his opposing defender, latching onto a loose pass before slipping the ball underneath Chris Lewington to send the Din into unbridled ecstasy and limbs.
Stronger in the comforts of their own Bauvill Stadium, their remarkable home record is one of the country’s finest, yet in recent weeks those wins have turned to draws with The Chats without a home win since January 21.
Four straight league draws has seen them stall a touch, yet they arrive into Saturday’s spotlight on the back of two straight wins on the road at Chichester City (4-2) and Burgess Hill Town (1-0), with the latter spawning a lone Nathan Harvey strike from about 80 yards. Yep, he’s the ‘keeper.
Only until he wasn’t. Shown red moments later, he followed fellow Chat, Dean Beckwith, to an early shower as Kevin Hake’ side finished the match with nine men.
Danny Kedwell, player/coach and long-time Gillingham favourite, returned to the line-up with top-scorer Dan Bradshaw, who has 10 goals to his name this season, dropped to the bench.
We mentioned in our previous preview that our Chairman, Andy Schofield, sourced a newspaper page from 1994 that told the local readers of a 1-0 FA Vase win in favour of the Hawks.
Indeed, that did happen! And now we have another game to discuss from just 17 days ago. 1-0 the Hawks won courtesy of an own-goal from Reece Butler, who thwacked the ball home after Luke Robinson’s cross collided with the far post.
Two games, two 1-0 wins in favour of the Hawks as the record book widens tomorrow…