Vanarama National League column – April 4

Easter by Luke Coulson, Ebbsfleet United and FWA member

On Easter weekend, children across the country ran round their gardens screaming and shouting as they tried to claim all the hidden Easter eggs. Similarly, but without the chocolate ending, teams from across the Vanarama National League ran around screaming and shouting as they tried to claim all the bank holiday weekend points.

With two games in four days and the end of the season closing in on us, Easter weekend provides a huge opportunity for clubs to establish their position in the league or move further up the table.

On Good Friday, I was excited at the prospect of playing against my former team Eastleigh; the club that introduced me to Vanarama National League football. However, a waterlogged pitch meant that the game was postponed, allowing my team mates and me to rest for the bank holiday Monday clash against Dover.

Before kick-off, our not so distant rivals were precariously sat in 7th position, seven points ahead yet having played two games more. Therefore, as we arrived at Stonebridge Road, we knew the game was vital to keep our aspirations alive of claiming a playoff spot this season.

It must have been clear to the 1,700 fans in attendance how desperate we were to win as we raised our performance levels to fit the occasion. Having not lost since early February, our confidence was high and we dominated the game, urged on by the Ebbsfleet faithful.

Dean Rance and Andy Drury were instrumental in the centre of midfield, while Danny Kedwell somehow, yet unsurprisingly, handled three central defenders allowing Whiteley and me the freedom to express ourselves in a must-win game. However, the score remained 0-0 at half time owing to a fantastic display by the Dover goalkeeper, Mitch Walker.

After the break, our constant pressure caused the breakthrough. An overhit corner allowed Sean Shields to take the ball on to his left foot and his low driven shot finally gave us the lead. I must admit that I expected Dover to begin to chase the game and pile on the pressure, yet we looked comfortable for the remaining half an hour until disaster struck in the 93rd minute.

Having been substituted with five minutes to go, it was agony to watch from the bench as the referee pointed to the spot and awarded Dover a penalty in additional time. I pulled the coat over my head and hoped to hear a cheer from the home crowd but it was the away fans that began to sing.

Watching helplessly from the bench, we were rewarded a free-kick with a minute to go. Myles Weston stood over the ball and his inch perfect delivery led to a scramble in the box before the ball fell to the hero, Andy Drury, whose composed left foot shot nestled in the far corner as the passionate celebrations began. A goal we deserved and most importantly, needed.

The final whistle blew and relief flooded throughout the stadium. The result continues our surge towards the playoffs, maintains our excellent current form and builds excitement for our next game live on BT Sport against league leaders, Macclesfield. 

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