One of National League South’s early high-fliers visit Dover this Saturday - but manager Mitch Brundle doesn’t think Whites should fear anyone.
With Dover in FA Cup action, as they beat Isthmian Premier Haringey 2-1 at Crabble, this Saturday’s opponents Taunton went top of the league with a win over Eastbourne Borough.
Brundle’s troops are second-bottom with only seven points from 10 matches but drew 2-2 at play-off occupants Bath in their latest league encounter.
Dover boss Brundle, who could welcome back defender Peter Ojemen after his one-match ban, said: “It’s always relentless, isn’t it?
“We’ll just move on to the next one. After the week I had of being ill, I enjoyed Saturday night.
“We don’t fear anyone. The league has shown anyone can beat anyone.
“We just want to give a good account of ourselves and a performance we’re proud of - whether that’s win, lose or draw.”
Whites fielded a starting line-up with an average age under 21 against Haringey as two-goal substitute Zidan Sutherland, 21, helped them come from behind to get into the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. Khalifa Jabbie had given the visitors the lead.
Former Football League midfielder and club captain James Dunne returned to the bench after a spell out but the 34-year-old wasn’t required as Dover’s young guns did the job.
“I will trust them,” said Brundle, himself only 28. “They will play in games that mean something.
“It’s not like I’m throwing them into games when we are 3-0 down or 3-0 up. I’m having to trust them but they’re repaying me.
“I could have quite easily thrown Dunney back into the midfield and changed the midfield but they did well - and they did well for 66 minutes against Bath, so I didn’t think it was right.
“I’ll always be honest and truthful with the players. If you’re not, then I think you lose the dressing room.
“For me, age doesn’t matter. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
Among two of three 18-year-olds to start were Academy graduates Henry Young and Archie Hatcher, who have signed contracts with the Crabble club.
Brundle expects both to have big futures - but warned it’s probably too early if any higher-division teams are already taking an interest in signing them.
He said: “They still have got so much learning to do.
“If professional clubs are looking at them now, I’d say it’s a bit too early. They need to learn their trade.
“They have got to have games where they don’t play so well, games where they get dragged off, games where they get booked early on, and all the little things that structure a man from a boy coming out of the Academy.
“The only way they’ll get that is by playing games and they have been excellent since they have come in.
“What’s Henry done now? Around 10 first-team games. It’s now back-to-back starts for Hatcher, as well, and he managed to get through the full game on Saturday.
“We’re delighted to get them on contract. It looks great for us as a football club as well, developing the players.
“I still speak to Mike [Sandmann, Academy boss] all the time. We’ll look for the next gem to come out of there.”
Another youth-team product, Luke Baptiste, also earned praise from Brundle.
The 20-year-old midfielder got the nod to replace experienced playmaker Iffy Allen in the latter stages of their warm-up.
On 29-year-old Allen’s knock, Brundle explained: “We sort of had a little idea on Thursday. He had a bit of a tight quad and he said ‘I’m okay’ - but okay isn’t good enough at the minute. We need people who are 100% firing.
“Baptiste came in and was excellent. He does what’s on the tin, he’ll consistently work. I thought, in the first half, he was a major threat.
“I thought their right-back was very good and tried to be in our half more than his own. But Baptiste managed to keep pinning him back.
“I thought he was outstanding.”
Their league trip to Truro will now need to be rearranged.