Tough decisions had to be made when choosing five teams to follow for the non-league season. I felt a little bit like a young starlet, with numerous suitors, deciding on his or her next move. In the end I opted for Ebbsfleet United at step one. This meant overlooking, however, one of my local clubs. Fate, as it so often does, brought the three of us together at the earliest opportunity.
There was no clear reason for not selecting Leyton Orient. They’re a great club, only a short trip on the 158 bus away. To use the transfer analogy again – Ebbsfleet just felt like a better fit for me this season. It was inevitable then that I’d make my Ebbsfleet debut against a club I turned down. I was looking forward to it though. Both of these clubs are hotly tipped this year and Ebbsfleet have the makings of a top side.
Competition:National League (step 1)
Revisit to Brisbane Road
My previous visits to Brisbane Road, now known as the Breyer Group Stadium, have been fun. Well, the games have been at least. A 3-2 cup defeat to Fulham and a 2-0 win against local rivals Dagenham & Redbridge. One overriding memory, however, has been tickets.
On my first visit I had to join one of the longer ticket collection queues I’ve seen. I twiddled my thumbs for what seemed like an eternity perilously close to some over-zealous traffic on Oliver Road. Second time round I braved a different queue, this time for the ticket office. This resulted in me forking out £20 for a non-league game and having no-change left for a tea to warm the cockles on a December afternoon.
£20 is too much for non-league. £16 tickets are available in advance, but allow plenty of time for collection. Otherwise, Brisbane Road is one to look forward too for non-league fans. A Football League stadium having a breather in the more relaxing setting of the National League before it inevitably returns to more familiar pastures and derbies against, er, Southend.
– Leyton Orient v Dagenham & Redbridge 2017/18
Tricky start for both clubs
As mentioned up top both of these sides are tipped to be front-runners this season. They both also had tricky season openers. The fixture generator, or group of old men sat around a table with bingo cards as I imagine it to be at this level, paired Ebbsfleet with fresh non-league meat Chesterfield. The relegated club prevailed, however, 1-0 in a tight contest in Kent.
Orient’s first game was a trip up to newly promoted Salford City. Another club expected to be near the promotion spots come May thanks to the ‘class of 92’ and their Mariana Trench pockets. The O’s went a goal down but managed to leave Manchester with a point thanks to a late own goal.
Little to worry about yet for Fleet and Os fans, but their meeting will be a good yardstick for where both sides are. The early signs, though, are that several teams have improved on last year and the fight for the higher places could be long and drawn out.
More queing at Brisbane Road
Tickets in the away section seemed very hard to come by with information on Ebbsfleet’s new website pointing towards Orient’s site, and Orient’s site only selling tickets for home sections. It’s non-league though, so I decided to brave the queues and buy a ticket on the door. And what a decision it proved to be. The lengthy queue, that was well organised by two stewards; one assertive but friendly and one comically disinterested, killed enough time for me to get in just as the teams came out.
I took my seat having said my goodbyes to several ‘queue buddies’. Plenty of away fans had circumvented the away ticketing confusion on the far side and were happily warming up the drum as Orient fans filled the southern end of the ground to their left. The atmosphere, as ever in E10, was cheerful with a hint of trepidation. Expectation levels have clearly risen after a season consolidating in the National League. Nothing short of a promotion challenge will do this season.
The Fleet fans, buoyed by some early pressure, were clearly enjoying one of the easier away trips on the National League calendar. The atmosphere got a little more heated as it became clear this game would go to the wire. The opposing fans in the corner exchanged chants, separated only by one of the stadium development flats that provide keen football fans, with a bit of spare change lying around, excellent sporting vistas. £500,000 at least! In case you were wondering.
Ebbsfleet United strike late to snatch point
The Fleet started the game well and were in control of possession and the tempo of the game for the majority of the early exchanges. Daryl McMahon’s side moved the ball well, but struggle to penetrate aside from an early chance for McQueen. The forward raced through following an injury to Elokobi but his finish just went over the bar.
The visitors were made to pay for their lack of killer instinct as Orient scored with their first real attack of the game. Bonne got in down the right and his perfect cross found Brophy who finished calmly. It was against the run of play, but the first bit of real attacking quality in the game.
The goal didn’t faze Fleet, however, and they continued to have plenty of possession, as the home side looked to counter quickly. Weston’s excellent effort was well saved by Brill to keep Orient ahead at the break. The home side looked the more dangerous in the second half as they tried to score a second. Ashmore had to be on hand to make several saves to keep Ebbsfleet in the game.
McMahon soon rang the changes with Coulson, Whitely and Cheek all coming on. The later having a good chance late on. It was Whitely, however, who would have the final say. The former Dagenham & Redbridge player found space on the edge of the box and drilled a shot past Brill, with a little help from a slight deflection. Nobody in blue cared, however, as Ebbsfleet had salvaged a point on the road in what ultimately looked like a fair result.
Star player: Nathan Ashmore