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Deal Town boss Steve King tips weekend visitors Bearsted as dark horses to finish in the Southern Counties East Premier Division play-offs this season

Manager Steve King is tipping Deal Town’s weekend visitors Bearsted as dark horses to make the Southern Counties East Premier Division play-offs.

King’s Hoops head into their last league home match of 2023 in fine form, with a 2-0 victory at Rusthall having moved them back into the play-offs last weekend - with plenty of games in hand on those above them.

Rory Smith, of Deal, in their 2-0 weekend win at Rusthall. Picture: Paul Willmott
Rory Smith, of Deal, in their 2-0 weekend win at Rusthall. Picture: Paul Willmott

Deal have already beaten the Bears twice this term - 4-2 in the league last month and 2-0 in the Challenge Cup in late October - but King has a lot of respect for long-serving Bearsted boss Kevin Stevens and his troops.

“I really rate Bearsted,” said King, with the Bears coming into the game after a 3-2 triumph over high-fliers Erith Town.

“I think they could be dark horses for the play-offs.

“Obviously, they beat Erith Town on Saturday and Erith Town are always difficult to beat.

“We’ve beaten them twice at their place but they gave us two really big tests. We’re good at home so we will go into Saturday very confident.

Deal hitman Aaron Millbank missed the journey to Rusthall due to illness. Picture: Paul Willmott
Deal hitman Aaron Millbank missed the journey to Rusthall due to illness. Picture: Paul Willmott

“But I like Kev Stevens and they’re a good club. Saturday is another massive game.”

Wideman Rory Smith and recent recruit Ife Oni ensured Deal won away to a Rusthall side who they recently thrashed 7-3.

King reflected: “It was a banana skin for us.

“We beat them quite comfortably at home a few weeks ago - but every side is a different proposition at home.

“There were some strange refereeing decisions throughout the afternoon, which added to the complexity of it.

“But we scored a goal in each half, kept a clean sheet and it turned out to be a really good weekend.”

For the Hoops, without in-form striker Aaron Millbank at Rusthall due to illness, it was a second consecutive 2-0 away triumph - albeit a fortnight apart.

Deal are on an eight-match winning run and had lost just twice in their last 19 matches in all competitions - but have kept only six shutouts in that time.

They couldn’t extend their winning spell in midweek after last night’s Challenge Cup clash at home to Division 1 Staplehurst was postponed after a pitch inspection.

King revealed: “We work every week on where we need to get better and we keep hammering home we will not continue to get away with it (not keeping clean sheets).

“That’s why, when we’re winning games, our review process is the same. We do need more clean sheets.

“Bearing in mind we conceded three against Rusthall a few weeks ago - I know we scored seven - it was really pleasing to keep a clean sheet on Saturday. Henry [Newcombe] made a couple of saves but wasn’t overly-busy.

“If we can get that right, I always back us to score goals because we have so many different threats.”

Right-back Oni sealed their win at Rusthall in the 78th minute and also helped them keep a clean sheet.

“I’m delighted for him,” King said. “I had a little joke with him before the game about it.

“He actually had moved further forward to the right side (of midfield). He has been a really good acquisition for us. We don’t get many we don’t know much about.

“But he has taken to the lads and the lads have taken to him.”

King is pleased to have discovered former Birmingham and Charlton youngster Oni can offer a different option in midfield now, too.

He said: “He’s an attacking full-back. Any attacking full-back tends to be quite comfortable going forward, especially with the way we play.

“We have Max Niblett back from university over Christmas, as well. He can play full-back.

“I work with young players and I say to them the more positions you can play, the more likely it is that you’re going to get picked to play first-team men’s football.

“For him, he has played centre midfield, he’s a right-back anyway, and now he’s played in right midfield. Reevo (Joe Reeves) is very similar.

“They’re really useful players to have.”

In contrast to some other divisions, the Hoops don’t have such a hectic festive schedule, with no game planned for Boxing Day.

“We have had Lordswood added in on January 2 but, apart from that, we’re going Saturday to Saturday to Saturday pretty much,” said King.

“It’s not too bad. I love football so I would like a Boxing Day game. But players have families - and it’s not their jobs.

“Last year, we were due to play on Boxing Day and I know the club was struggling to run on that matchday. On Boxing Day, we probably would have got a crowd of 600 or 700.

“I will go out and watch games but the players can enjoy their Christmases.

“I don’t mind it.”

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