Recycled resources from Kent’s county town club form the majority of the Margate squad arriving in Tonbridge on Tuesday.
Joking aside, the relatively new boss of the seaside side has signed people he knows and the strategy appears to be working.
The strong Maidstone connections are not surprising in light of the involvement of former United stalwart Steve Watt. The once-defender is now in charge at Hartsdown Park. He took over from Nikki Bull, in February, following the latter’s resignation. Previous managerial experience included a role as assistant at Hastings, until the mid-season switch last term.
The midweek guests are seventh in the table with games in hand on several teams above them. They are a couple of matches behind because of progress in the FA Cup. On Saturday, the ‘Gate defeated coastal colleagues Herne Bay by 2-0 at home, in front of a 1,000-plus crowd in the third qualifying round.
The most recent Bostik Premier outing, a few days earlier on Wednesday September 27, ended in a victory by the same score-line against Leatherhead, on Surrey soil.
Only a few of the visitors likely to line up at Longmead in the Kent derby have not appeared for the Angels’ arch-rivals at some stage during their careers.
Ironically, several players would have been members of the Stones’ squad that pipped Margate to the title and earned automatic promotion from the division in 2014/15. And the Aberdeen-born defender, now at the Hartsdown helm, proved a key figure in the success as skipper of the eventual champions.
For that campaign, the-then generously-funded Thanet outfit started as favourites, but needed to beat runners-up Hendon in the play-off final for a place in the National League South. The stay lasted two seasons with budget cuts no doubt a factor in subsequent struggle.
The initial term concluded with a run of 11 defeats in 12 games, with survival only achieved by the skin of teeth. In the end, another year in the second tier was provided courtesy of last-day outcomes elsewhere, which effectively relegated Havant & Waterlooville by a single goal. As Longmead regulars will know, the Hawks earned their return at the first attempt after securing top spot in April.
While the Hampshire men were toasting triumph, Margate prepared for life back in the Isthmian League, after finishing bottom with only 25 points.
During the summer an industrious recruitment drive has resulted in what could be described as wholesale changes. A host of new signings even included an acquisition for an “undisclosed” transfer fee. Alex Flisher moved from Maidstone, where the left-winger had been a key part of the team that climbed from Bostik South to the non-league top-flight. He is apparently suffering from a “long-term injury”.
The 25 year-old joined many familiar faces from his days at the Gallagher Stadium. Indeed, there is something of an ex-Stones club at the Kent Coast these days and the vast majority of compatriots have the National League members listed as previous employers. That should be a sign of quality, on paper at least, and Watt’s task will be to engineer a promotion bid from the various components at his disposal. The way things are going, and with ambitious Billericay investing heavily, promotion chasers are likely to require the play-off route this term.
Margate’s fortunes in 2017/18 might depend on how quickly the new squad gels and the large number of people who already know each other is almost certain to help. In the Bostik Premier, a strong finish, rather than start, frequently decides the play-off pool so a sluggish opening phase is not necessarily an issue. (Tonbridge can take heart from that, following a sticky patch that has involved surprise league defeats plus an early FA Cup exit.)
In Thanet, Watt’s targeting of talent possibly seems slightly unimaginative – only a few recruits have not worn the Stones’ amber and black - but the safe bet is often the best option. The Scot has chosen proven players with a track record in the current division and levels above. Those without Maidstone on the CV list clubs of similar standing, or, in some cases, enjoyed professional careers with the likes of Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Millwall and Gillingham.
A couple of the attackers in the visiting ranks will know their way around Longmead. Frannie Collin and Jay May, both named by Margate on the possible line-up list, had spells at Tonbridge, with the former a particularly popular figure. His goal-scoring exploits assisted the Angels’ promotion to Conference South and earned him plaudits during the subsequent debut campaign in the division. Other notable achievements include similar elevation for Dover, before the stint under Tommy Warrilow, and with Maidstone afterwards. He will be aiming for a repeat performance at his latest club.
The two teams met at Hartsdown Park, for a midweek clash in the first week of 2017/18. Despite the attacking prowess in both camps the pair could only produce a 0-0 stalemate.
Recently, Steve McKimm’s men have beaten Dorking Wanderers at home (2-0) and Burgess Hill away (1-0). However, at the weekend, a trip to Leatherhead for a clash against the high-flying, but homeless, Kingstonian finished in a narrow reverse (1-2).
During the summer it was all-change at Margate and that can be a gamble. The manager’s transfer policy may produce dividends, especially in an environment where a late rally can reap rewards. The top teams in the Isthmian Premier have form for winning runs in the final months before the close, in the chase for play-off places.
The early signs are encouraging for Watt’s engineering, with his charges nine games unbeaten in all competitions. The engine is running smoothly at the moment and building momentum is always vital in the race for glory.
The visitors are probably favourites for the midweek tussle, against an Angels’ assembly not yet firing on all cylinders.
The Bostik Premier match between Tonbridge and Margate at Longmead Stadium on Tuesday October 3rd is a 7.45pm kick-off.
Updated 23:40 - 3 Oct 2017 by Jim Rowe