Published: 05:00, 25 November 2021
Ramsgate face the ultimate test as they bid to continue their winning run.
Rams chalked up a fifth straight win in Isthmian South East at the weekend with goals from Ashley Miller, Callum Peck and Josh Ajayi in a 3-1 home success over Whitehawk.
To make it six they’ll have to beat leaders Cray Valley, a side Ramsgate manager Matt Longhurst says contains some of the best players in country at their level of football.
It has all the makings of an excellent game at Southwood on Saturday, where victory would see third-placed Rams move a point behind the Millers.
“Cray Valley have got some of the best, if not the best, players in the country at step four,” said Longhurst.
“People like Chris Lewington, Francis Babalola, Gavin Tomlin, Marcel Barrington, Connor Dymond, their team is littered with players who’ve played higher and could easily still be playing higher.
"It will be an extreme test for us.
“The difference with us is we’re younger, we’ve got some potential stars of the future and hopefully some of our boys will emulate what those players have done.
“What Kevin Watson (Cray Valley boss) has done is built a team over a long period of time and added real quality to it, fit, mobile players who’ve achieved stuff at higher levels.
“They’ve built their foundations on a lot of experience at the back, they’re a big, powerful team with pace and I said at the beginning of the season, as good as Hastings are, I think Cray Valley are the ones to beat.
“I think they’ve got the most most all-round squad and, to me, anyone who finishes in front of them will win the league.”
Ramsgate’s winning streak has followed a four-match losing run, during which they were desperately short on defenders.
With everyone back fit, Longhurst says he isn’t surprised to see the side recapture their early-season form.
As good as Rams have been in possession at times, it’s their work off the ball that’s doing the damage.
“We’ve signed players because of the way we want to play,” said Longhurst.
“We have a style with the ball but teams can stop that, whereas it’s much harder to stop you putting them under pressure because then they have to think tactically how to dislodge our press.
“I don’t think there’s too many teams who will be able to do that and, if they do, we’ve got ways of reacting to that.
“That’s one of the big premises we’re working by, how we win the ball back and asking that question of teams.
“We’ve beaten three of the best teams in the league - Whitehawk, Hastings and Herne Bay - with that method.
“If someone works it out, we’ll counter with something different.
“Credit the players, their fitness levels for our level of football are absolutely phenomenal.”
Ramsgate have released 10-goal striker Jordan Chiedozie along with midfielder Ben Harding, who only joined from Whitstable last month.
Rams players even questioned the decision to release Chiedozie, who’d lost his place to Miller in recent weeks, but Longhurst is sure it’s the right call.
“We’re playing really well without him, he wasn’t going to get in the side and you can’t have a player of his stature on the bench watching,” said Longhurst.
“It’s purely a footballing decision, we shook hands and hopefully I’ve secured him a move to the league above.
“He scored 10 goals but three or four of those were penalties and a free-kick and I just feel we were functioning better as a team without him and the team is the most important thing.
“A few of the boys pulled me aside and said, ‘Are you sure?’
“I said, ‘Look, we know what we’re doing, we’ve been doing this a long time, we know you lot trust us.’
“I’m glad they came and spoke to me rather than talking behind my back - we don’t mind that.
“You explain your reasons and when you back it up with a performance like we produced against Whitehawk, it’s conversation over because it dispels any doubts.”