Two of the best teams in the Combined Counties League go head to head on Saturday – and the result could go a long way to determining whether Badshot Lea are real title contenders.
The Baggies have dropped to fourth place in the Premier South table after last week’s 1-1 draw with fellow promotion chasers Knaphill, who also won 3-0 at Fleet on Tuesday evening.
This week they entertain leaders Raynes Park Vale at Wrecclesham – one of the most in-form non-league teams in the country.
The Baggies have games in hand over all the teams at the top of the table – and if they win them all, they will sit pretty on top.
Co-manager Gavin Smith admits: “I would rather have the points in the bag than games in hand, mind – there’s no saying what will happen in those matches.
“I don’t know why other teams have played more games than us – we haven’t had loads of postponements or anything.
“Raynes Park are absolutely flying. Since they lost to us and Guildford in quick succession, they seem to win every week.
“If we can get a result on Saturday, it would be brilliant for us. We want to win, of course we do, but the aim is not to lose.
“If they win, they would go eight points ahead of us and we would have only two games in hand. We have had another great start to the season but if we lose we will be looking at the table and thinking we have to play catch-up.
“We are surrounded by really good teams who are very consistent and we have to keep up with them and keep doing what we do well. I’m sure the boys will be up for this one.”
The Baggies were among the pace setters last season but gradually dropped off the pace after Christmas. This time, though, Smith is expecting his side to keep pace.
“Fair play to the club, they have really backed us this season,” he said. “We have the resources to compete at the top of this league so now it’s up to us. If we don’t do it, after we told the club what we needed and they backed us, then it’s down to us.
“I think we have improved but it’s hard – you still have to get results and win games, and sometimes there’s a bit more pressure when you’re expected to win games.
“We know Raynes Park will be a tough one. They have a couple of new players since we beat them 2-1 at their place in September.
“We have Tadley after Raynes Park and that will be another tough match.
“The games that suit us are when teams go toe to toe, like it was in Jersey, but Knaphill was more of a dour game.
“We came away happy with a point – neither side really deserved all three points from the game.
“We went ahead but Tane Caubo was injured after 20 minutes and we didn’t have another striker to put on, so we had to jiggle things around.
“We gave them a bit of a soft goal and after that both teams seemed to cancel each other out. Fair play to Knaphill, they defended very well and they have always been a tough team to play. You can see why they’re up there in the table.
“We always look to win our home games and we’re disappointed when we don’t, but Knaphill are on a really good run.
“We have been looking to strengthen our side and we have now got Danilo Cadete back, which we are delighted about.
“He’s a great lad and a great player and we all know what he can do. We didn’t want him to leave in the first place but it didn’t work out for him at Sheerwater, so when their manager left we put in an approach.
“We have also signed central defender Connagh Wilks, who was with Paul Johnson at Bedfont last year. He knows one of our players and said he was about to leave Hanwell as he wanted to play locally, so we signed him and put him straight into the team.
“I think he will do well for us.
“We have two more games before we have a break over Christmas and we want to pick up as many points as we can, but both games will be tough.”
The match against Raynes Park Vale at Wrecclesham on Saturday kicks off at 3pm.