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Ebbsfleet United goalkeeper Chris Haigh says second National League South promotion of the season with Oxford City eases pain of double leg break

Ebbsfleet goalkeeper Chris Haigh celebrated his second promotion from the same division in a month on Sunday.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the 26-year-old after a double leg break in August threatened to ruin his campaign.

Chris Haigh, second left, is all smiles with the National League South trophy alongside fellow Ebbsfleet goalkeepers Harrison Firth and Mark Cousins plus goalkeeper coach Jeff Richardson. Picture: Simon Hildrew
Chris Haigh, second left, is all smiles with the National League South trophy alongside fellow Ebbsfleet goalkeepers Harrison Firth and Mark Cousins plus goalkeeper coach Jeff Richardson. Picture: Simon Hildrew

But the likeable keeper has bounced back in style, regaining fitness in double swift-time with the Fleet before heading on loan to Oxford City and helping them win the National League South play-off Final.

“People keep asking me if it’s a record and I don’t know!” said Haigh. “I’d like to think so. It feels a little bit surreal, though.

“To go from double leg break in August to double promotion in May is a big turnaround. I’m chuffed to bits with how the season has gone now.

“I’m genuinely so proud of myself, a lot of hard work has gone into this year. It was a massive setback to me after such a promising start but I always feel you get your rewards for putting the work in so I couldn’t be any happier.

“Ebbsfleet really looked after me during that period and it was thanks to them that I came through a good rehab and was then able to help Oxford get promoted.

“I definitely feel that the way the season has ended has given good purpose and meaning behind my season. I felt that anyway after getting promoted with Ebbsfleet.

“I know I didn’t play as many minutes as I’d liked to have played - that’s obvious. But I was in such a good place at the start of the season and performing well that I definitely felt part of the group, regardless.

“To go and get promoted with Oxford afterwards, I couldn’t ask for a better way to end the season. It eases the pain of breaking my leg and I don’t think I’d change it, to be honest.”

Haigh enjoyed an excellent pre-season and was pushing Fleet’s summer signing Mark Cousins for the regular berth at Stonebridge Road before disaster struck during his first league outing, suffering a double leg-break at Eastbourne.

His determination meant he was back to full fitness quicker than expected but he couldn’t dislodge Cousins as Ebbsfleet stormed to the league title, Haigh enjoying the celebrations after the Fleet won the title - ironically against Oxford City - on Good Friday.

Within five days, the keeper was on his way to join Oxford after on-loan Nottingham Forest stopper Adnan Kanuric broke his hand.

“I was doing a bit of coaching on a Wednesday evening and the Ebbsfleet gaffer Dennis Kutrieb called me and said the Oxford goalie had broken his hand and has to go back to Forest,” explained Haigh. “They’ve asked to have you on loan and he said he thought it would be a really good opportunity for me and straight away I said ‘let’s do it’.

“I trained on the Thursday night and played at Dover on the Saturday. I was really happy with how I played against Dover, I made a bit of an error for the goal in the first five minutes and I thought ‘here we go, that’s not what you need in your first game’ but the rest of the game in possession with the ball at my feet the boys were buzzing off me and I felt I made a big difference in that aspect.

“I got to make some big saves throughout the game, I made a good save one-on-one at 1-0 and I came away feeling really positive.

“As the games have gone on, I feel like I’ve gone from strength to strength, I was talking to the goalie coach about it the other day and I feel that I’ve really found my groove and got to where I needed to be, and where everyone wanted me to be.”

Oxford were nailed on for the play-offs and eventually finished third, their final-day defeat at Bath not knocking them out of third place after Chelmsford also slipped up.

That meant a home Semi-Final with Worthing in the play-offs, before they also hosted St Albans in Sunday’s Final – running out 4-0 winners with all the goals coming in the first half.

“Before I went to Oxford all the boys at Ebbsfleet were saying we think Oxford are the second-best team in the league,” said Haigh. “I know they finished behind Dartford but I think they’re a better team than Dartford, to be honest.

“In the semi against Worthing, I didn’t have much to do. I made a pretty big save in the first few minutes but apart from that I had no real saves to make.

“The same happened on Sunday, I made a big save in the first minute and the rest of it was dealing with crosses and normal stuff. It could have gone slightly differently but after that first minute the boys were incredible, they were absolutely fantastic.

“To be 4-0 up at half-time was something else, I couldn’t have asked for a better 45 minutes in a play-off Final.

“St Albans are a good team. At the start of the play-offs I thought they would have a good chance as they were in good form, they’ve got some good players in Shaun Jeffers and Zane Banton, who can win games.

“I absolutely loved it at Oxford. It was a fantastic experience. The dressing room is unbelievable, the gaffer is brilliant and has a really good eye for detail and the goalie coach was superb with me.

“There is a real family feel, there’s no egos in that dressing room, everyone was like best mates in there. I loved every minute and it’s been superb.

“Oxford made me feel so welcome and it didn’t feel like I’d been there for five games, it felt like I’d been there for five months.”

Ebbsfleet keeper Chris Haigh with his two medals - a National League South title and play-off winner in one season
Ebbsfleet keeper Chris Haigh with his two medals - a National League South title and play-off winner in one season

The only downside for Haigh was that he missed out on an end-of-season trip to Majorca with his Ebbsfleet team-mates. But a second medal more than made up for the sacrifice.

“I could have potentially gone for a couple of days but I would have really regretted it if I’d played poorly on the Sunday so I decided against it,” said Haigh.

“I said to my dad that I’m gutted I don’t get to go with the boys after winning the league but if I get another play-off medal then I’d swap that all day long.”

It’s not the first play-off medal for Haigh, who had a day to remember when helping Heybridge Swifts to promotion back in 2019.

“We won the play-offs at Heybridge, it went to a penalty shoot-out and I saved all four - I had a good day that day!” recalled Haigh. “To be fair, the last four or five years have been brilliant for me.

“The following season I was at Concord and got man-of-the-match at Wembley. The following season I went to Ebbsfleet and then lost in the play-off Final and now I’ve done this. I’m thinking that two medals this year replaces not getting one last year.”

Haigh is one of a number of players in talks with Ebbsfleet over a new deal for next season and he’s confident the Fleet will impress in the National League.

“I love being at Ebbsfleet, it’s a great club and I’ve loved my football there for the last two seasons,” he said.

“I think at Ebbsfleet we’ve got a really clear way we like to play. Everyone knows how to play the system, the manager is excellent, he knows what he wants. I don’t see why we can’t more than hold our own in that division. They’ve got the resources between the management team and players to do well.

“Hopefully both Ebbsfleet and Oxford can cement themselves as National League clubs. For me, Ebbsfleet are a National League club, that’s where we belong in my opinion. Oxford are brand new to it so it’s up to them to stay in that division.”

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