Whisper it ever so quietly, but maybe, just maybe, this is the season Ebbsfleet United finally live up to the hype that surrounds the North Kent club. After missing out on promotion two seasons ago, when Kent rivals Dover Athletic defeated them in the Conference South Play-off final, and then flattering to deceive last season with an underwhelming 8th place finish, this season the club that takes its name from the High Speed rail station next door to its home, and were once sponsored by Eurostar, have themselves started like an express train in their pursuit for National League South glory.
After an opening day win over last year’s beaten play-off semi finalists Basingstoke Town, the Fleet made the short journey to local rivals Maidstone United on match day two and came away with an impressive two-nil win thanks to two goals from summer signing Jordan Parkes. It was a win that sent a signal out to the rest of the division that this season Ebbsfleet mean business. An impressive crowd of 2636 turned out to witness the first Kent derby of the season in this division, and it was the travelling support who could enjoy silencing their noisy neighbours, for now at least.
Next up for the Fleet was a visit to Clarence Park and a meeting with St Albans City. City won the corresponding fixture one-nil last season, a game that spelt the end of Jamie Day’s short reign as Ebbsfleet manager. Day’s successor, Daryl McMahon, has been shrewd in the transfer market this summer bringing in the National League South Player of season in 2014/15, Jordan Parkes; a talented midfielder that scored 31 times for Hemel Hempstead Town last season. Parkes joins the likes of Matt Fish and Danny Kedwell, two players that have Football League experience and League 2 winning medals from their time at Gillingham. The likes of Stuart Lewis, Danny Haynes, Robbie Willmott and Matt Gooden have also all had Football League experience, and you can now see why Ebbsfleet are strong favourites to win this division. The backing of rich Kuwait owners helps too.
Saturday 15th August 2015 – St Albans City 2 v 0 Ebbsfleet United – Clarence Park – Att 602
The day began with a visit to the Great British Beer festival in Olympia in South West London. After an hour or so of enjoying some real ales from various brewries from across Great Britain, I noticed that time was getting on. I sipped the last few drops of my third pint of real ale and headed off towards Earls Court to catch a train back to London St Pancras station. Unfortunately I under estimated the time it would take to get from the hustle and bustle of Earls court to the leafy Hertfordshire town of St Albans, and I didn’t arrive at the ground until twenty minutes after kick-off. Eventually I managed to find an entrance to get into the ground, and the steward relieved me of my ten pounds.
The sun was shining with bright blues skies above Clarence Park. A healthy contingent of travelling Ebbsfleet fans were enjoying the sunshine on the terraces behind both the goals, but after twenty minutes of action the game remained scoreless with the home side having so far contained the threat of the Fleet’s strike force of Danny Kedwell and Matt Gooden.
However, after the half time break it took just five minutes for the Fleet to open the scoring. The lively Parkes was fouled in the area and the referee awarded the Fleet a penalty. Danny Kedwell, a regular scorer from 12 yards in his spells at AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham, dispatched the penalty with the minimum of fuss to give the Fleet the lead right in front of the 150 or so travelling supporters from Kent.
From that point onwards it was pretty much one way traffic with the home side failing to trouble Fleet stopper Brandon Hall in their efforts to get back into the match. The second goal eventually came in the 75th minute. A scramble in the box wasn’t dealt with by the St Albans back line, the ball eventually finding its way into the path of Ian Gayle, who fired the ball back towards the goal and into the net via a deflection off a St Albans player.
A third win and third clean sheet in the row for the Fleet put them top of the National League South table on goal difference ahead of Hemel Hempstead Town, who have also started the season with three straight wins. They say you shouldn’t pay attention to league tables this early in the season, and by and large you shouldn’t, but for the Fleet supporters who have yet to see the Kuwait money poured into club make much difference in terms of success on the pitch, they can for now revel in the joy of being top of the league. Time will tell if they’re there when it really matters next May.