Published: 05:00, 29 April 2022
| Updated: 09:15, 29 April 2022
Ben Smith admits Herne Bay will “have to come up with something different” if they are to finally beat Ashford this season - and earn promotion in the process.
The Kent rivals will look horns at Homelands this Saturday in the Isthmian South East play-off final, with a place in Isthmian Premier next season up for grabs.
While only two points separated the sides at the end of the campaign, the Nuts & Bolts did the double over Bay, beating them 2-1 at Ashford in September and 3-0 at Winch’s Field in January.
Bay boss Smith thinks whoever adapts the better on the day may have the upper hand ahead of their showdown.
“They are one-off games,” he said.
“Our players don’t go into the dressing room when we are playing a big side and say ‘Oooh, we can’t beat them’.
“On paper, we are as good as anyone. Ashford have a certain style of play which is really effective. They are a quality side.
“We have got a style of play that’s slightly different but we have got to show the other side as well.
“If you look throughout the season, on paper, they have shown they can adapt probably a little bit better than we have, and we have got to find a way to adapt.
“Between now and Saturday, we will be looking at footage of Tuesday and of the games against Ashford, and we will have to come up with something different.”
Smith thinks the pressure is on Ashford, who lost out to Horsham in the play-off final three years ago. They reached the final with a 1-0 home win over Cray Valley on Tuesday while, in contrast, Bay had never made the play-offs prior to this campaign.
Smith explained: “I’m going to enjoy the day. There’s lots of excitement, let’s go and enjoy it.
“No-one picked us to be there. We were dead and buried a month or so ago and I was the worst manager in the world. So let’s go and enjoy it, and give it a shot.
“I’m certainly not bigging our chances up but we are not going there just to give them a good day at their home. Absolutely not. We will probably have more support ourselves.
“We will travel in numbers and, let’s have it right, our ambition is to get promoted. So we are not going to go there and roll over.
“They’ll know that but they’ll also know it’s a big ask in front of us.
"But I’ll back my boys - as Tommy (Warrilow, Ashford’s boss) will back his.”
The match will also see Bay goalkeeper Jordan Perrin head to Ashford in, arguably, his best form since he joined the club.
Having kept five straight clean sheets, he was one of Herne Bay’s shoot-out heroes as they beat Haywards Heath 6-5 on penalties after a 3-3 draw.
“He can’t do anything about the goals on Tuesday but, in a play-off final, you need your keeper to have a good game,” Smith commented.
“I think he’s had a point to prove all season and he’s proving it at the minute. I’m so pleased for him.”
On-loan Ebbsfleet midfielder Mike West came off in the first half against Haywards Heath in midweek but Smith was optimistic he would be fit to face Ashford.
“Westy pulled up. It sounds like it’s not anything serious but he was just not going to get through Tuesday and Saturday,” he stated.
“So we made that call and took him off.”
Meanwhile fellow midfielder Eddie Allsopp will also be suspended - provided the club don’t launch a successful appeal in time - after his red card.
That could result in a recall to the squad for Bola Dawodu or Bradley Schafer.