We’ve had the dress rehearsal, and now it’s time for the main performance.
Sittingbourne and Merstham have already met this month at Woodstock, the home side deservedly going through to a place in the third round of the League Cup, playing for the Velocity Trophy.
David Smith got the only goal of that game, scoring for Sittingbourne after Tom Loynes had nicked the ball off a Merstham defender and set him up with the chance.
This Saturday though – at the earlier than usual kick-off time of 2.30pm – the teams compete to make progress in the first qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Trophy.
Not only is there prestige at stake for going through another round in a national competition, there’s also a more-than-handy £3,500 on offer from the FA to the winners.
Sittingbourne go into the match unbeaten in their last nine games, a superb run in which they’ve conceded just two goals and risen to second in Bostik League South.
They’ve only let in one in their last eight games, and that followed a rather lucky deflection from a corner, so that’s 12 hours of football without giving away a goal in open play.
This will be their third home match in a week, both the previous games ending in draws, 1-1 against Chipstead last Saturday and 0-0 with fifth-placed Cray Wanderers in midweek.
Sittingbourne owed the point against Chipstead to a very late equaliser by Kane Rowland, though even then the drama wasn’t over as captain Ben Gorham was sent off in added time and misses the Merstham match through suspension.
Luckily for Sittingbourne they have cover in hand, through either in-demand youngster Lex Allan or the experienced Lawrence Ball.
There was another sending-off in injury time in the match against Cray, left-back Chris Elliott getting a straight red card though I for one wasn’t quite sure what his offence was. Twice having a flurry of punches thrown at him is hardly his fault.
Both proved tough matches for Sittingbourne, but their determination, commitment and team spirit shone through and they’ll need all that in equal measure against Merstham.
Saturday’s opponents Merstham play in a division one higher – Bostik Premier League – and have had a mixed bag of results this season.
Since losing at Sittingbourne in the League Cup they’ve won two and lost two – a good win at Margate and a 6-2 thrashing of Lowestoft sandwiched by defeats at Wingate & Finchley (Sittingbourne’s next opponents in the Velocity Trophy) and a 4-0 home setback on Tuesday night against a powerful Dulwich Hamlet side.
Sittingbourne have already won through a round in the Trophy, goals by Rowland (2) and Smith giving them a comfortable 3-0 win over Ashford United in the last round.
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