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Ebbsfleet United’s player-of-the-year goalkeeper Mark Cousins says staying in the National League will be a bigger achievement than last season’s National League South title triumph

Ebbsfleet goalkeeper Mark Cousins believes avoiding relegation would be a bigger achievement than last season’s title-winning campaign.

The Fleet’s National League survival bid will go to the final day of the season after a goalless draw away to FC Halifax on Tuesday night.

Ebbsfleet keeper Mark Cousins was named player-of-the-year last weekend Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC
Ebbsfleet keeper Mark Cousins was named player-of-the-year last weekend Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC

It means Ebbsfleet must avoid defeat at Boreham Wood on Saturday (12.15pm) to guarantee their safety, although they could lose and still survive if Woking are beaten at home by AFC Fylde.

Speaking after being named the Fleet’s player-of-the-year last weekend, Cousins admitted he’s been kept on his toes this year.

“It’s definitely the busiest season I’ve ever had as a keeper,” said Cousins. “Ranking-wise, I don’t know - winning the league last season was something special so that goes above it, but staying up would maybe be a bigger achievement.

“If we can get the job done then that will be right up there for many reasons.

“The first half of the season was probably the toughest I’ve had as a keeper.

“We were shocking, defensively, you can’t beat around the bush, it was really terrible. We had to fix it, and we did to be fair.

“We have improved defensively and we’ve started to see the results we’ve got because of our defensive displays. It has been tough but when it gets tough you have to keep going, you can’t just throw the towel in.

“It would have been easy around Christmas time to say we’re done and we can’t get out but we’ve kept going and have turned the corner. We’re on the brink of safety and we’ve just got to get over the line.

“These are the weeks that make or break you as players. We’ve got to dig in and stick together and that’s what we’ll be doing.”

Cousins played in all-but-one game for Ebbsfleet last season but he’s been an ever-present this time around and will make it 100 consecutive appearances at Boreham Wood this weekend.

He knows better than most how the Fleet have had to turn their campaign around after a torrid spell before the turn of the year.

It’s a much-improved defence ahead of him now, with on-loan youngsters Declan Skura and Tommy Fogarty both impressing while Myles Kenlock must have pushed the keeper close for season honours, despite only joining at the end of October.

“I was very busy in the first half of the season and then we’ve been a lot better in the second half,” reflected Cousins.

“I think that’s due to bringing in players like Declan - we didn’t have a centre-half at this club, really. We needed a strong centre-half and, to be fair to him, Declan is only a young lad but he’s done extremely well for us.

“Myles Kenlock has been getting better and better, he’s a Steady Eddie, and obviously Luke O’Neill and now Tommy. The defence isn’t very experienced but they’re sticking with it and they’ve really improved us over the second half of the season.

“Myles is an experienced player but for the likes of Declan and Tommy this is their first loan move and they’re still very young in terms of defenders at 19 and 22.

“You try and communicate and help them through games as best as possible, and when things aren’t going so well you try to encourage them because, even though it was a long time ago, I know what it was like to be starting out. The more encouragement you get, the more confidence it builds.”

Read more: Fleet boss Searle on final-day showdown

The stats show Cousins has been the second-busiest keeper in the National League this season, so there’s little surprise that his list of favourite saves flows quite quickly.

“Oldham away I made a double save from James Norwood, I was literally on the floor and managed to get the ball over the bar with my foot,” said Cousins.

“Chesterfield at home there were a couple of double saves there, Solihull last Tuesday there was a top-corner one, Wealdstone away and Wealdstone at home.

“I think I’ve touched close to 150 saves this year. It probably sums up our season, the first half I made just over 100 saves so that’s how we’ve improved in the second half.

“My saves have been coming down and the goals against have come down which shows as a team we’ve gradually been getting it right.”

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