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Dartford defender Connor Essam keeps focus on next game in National League South with double header against Ebbsfleet getting ever closer

Defender Connor Essam won’t take his eye off the ball – even if Dartford fans are already looking ahead to their festive double header with Ebbsfleet.

The Darts host the Fleet on Boxing Day before the return game at Stonebridge Road on January 2, but they’ve got a tough league trip to Maidstone this weekend and a tricky FA Trophy tie at Cray Wanderers to negotiate first.

Dartford defender Connor Essam has warned against looking too far ahead. Picture: Keith Gillard
Dartford defender Connor Essam has warned against looking too far ahead. Picture: Keith Gillard

The matches were the talk of the terraces before Saturday’s narrow league win over lowly Billericay last Saturday, but Essam insisted that the players aren’t being distracted with a tough schedule ahead of them.

“You can only get three points for a game so there was no point thinking about the Ebbsfleet game and then slipping up against Billericay,” said Essam. “That would do us no favours whatsoever.

“It sounds a bit cliché but we’ve got to take each game as it comes, tick them off and keep getting those three points.

“We know those Ebbsfleet games over Christmas and New Year are going to be important games, they were always going to be important even at the start of the season when it was expected that we’d both be in and around it.

“But we’ve got Maidstone this week which is a big game and then Cray Wanderers in the FA Trophy, so we don’t want to look too far ahead.”

There will be bumper crowds for both matches against Ebbsfleet with tickets already on sale for the Boxing Day clash at Princes Park.

Essam added: “Everyone seems to raise their game in the bigger matches, it always happens. That’s what we play for, we play for the big games and crowds.

“It’s certainly something we’re looking forward to but we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves, Maidstone is the priority. Let’s get prepared for that. They’ve hit a bit of good form as well so we need to be at our best.

“There’s no easy games in this league. I’ve been in and around this level for a while now and it’s a tough, tough league this year. You can see from Billericay, bottom of the table but that performance was not a side who are bottom.

“We know anyone can beat anyone, we’re at the top and we’re there to be shot at which we found out five or six games ago when we had a little dip. These games are going to be important as we’re playing teams in and around us so if you can get three points it really starts to open up that gap. Maidstone is the next priority now, let’s get prepared for that.”

The win was a ninth clean sheet of the season for Dartford, who boast the best defensive record in National League South with 11 goals conceded in 15 games.

Essam knows that a defensive base will be key if they are to maintain their quest for honours.

“Centre-halves in general pride themselves on consistency,” he added. “There’s been a few bits this season that I haven’t been too pleased with, personally, but I think I’m getting back to my best and getting that consistency. You want seven or eight out of 10 week in, week out.

“Defensively as a group we’ve been pretty good. Our defence is the best in the league so far and the stats don’t lie. It’s something the keepers, the defenders and the squad in general pride ourselves on. You need a solid base to build from.

“We’re a team that can play good, expansive football but we’re also a team that can roll our sleeves up and grind out a horrible one-nil.”

Darts have switched to a back three in recent weeks but Essam insisted it doesn’t take much adjusting - whatever formation boss Steve King opts for.

He added: “We’ve all been around long enough now that we’ve played three at the back and we’ve played four.

“It is different, obviously there it’s a slightly different role as you’ve got your wing-back higher up the pitch when we’re used to having full-backs next to us in a four so it does take a bit of adjustment.

“But we work quite well together, the three of us, plus Josh Hill when he is fit and available.

“We’ve all played a lot of games so it’s quite an easy transition. It’s different but it doesn’t take too much adjusting.”

Essam is one of four quality centre-backs at Dartford who would get into most teams across the division.

Josh Hill is ruled out through a knee injury but Essam knows the team comes first when boss King has to make his selection.

“It’s a good luxury that the gaffer has got four good centre-halves for this level,” said Essam. “It’s a position that’s important on the pitch. The competition for places is good, obviously Josh is injured at the moment but we like the competition and the four of us get on really well so it’s healthy competition.

“At the end of the day, the team comes first. As long as we get the three points on a matchday, that’s the most important thing.”

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