Brentwood, 9.57am: 8°C, broken clouds

Preview: Ebbsfleet United v Billericay Town

Billericay Town face their first friendly game of the season this Saturday at National League side, Ebbsfleet FC. Having reported for the start of pre-season training last week, the game forms part of the initial preparations for what will be a demanding five-week program before the big kick-off on Saturday August 4th.

With the fixture announcement on Wednesday revealing a trip to Cornish side, Truro, as first opponents, Billericay Town face an immediate introduction to the longer distance travelling requirements brought by promotion to the National South League.

Ebbsfleet, who also began their pre-season last week are currently at their annual warm weather training camp in Portugal. Once they jet back from the Continent, the visit of Step Two new-boys Billericay commences their preparation for what looks a very exciting opening day fixture. For the first time ever, on the opening Saturday in August, the Fleet will face ex-League Two side, Chesterfield, who make the trip down from Derbyshire to the Kuflink Stadium.

The friendly fixture kicks-off at 12.30pm to accommodate anybody wanting to watch the England v Sweden World Cup Quarter-Final, kicking off at 3pm. With the big screen in the Main Stand Bar, supporters have the chance for a double portion of football on what should be a sunny afternoon.

Unlike the England game, the result of the friendly match should not be viewed as critical. This is primarily a chance for players to integrate into the team and improve their levels of fitness and match sharpness. An impressive performance versus a National League outfit is the primary consideration for the Billericay Town management team.

The choice of Ebbsfleet FC for a friendly match not only represents an appetising fixture for all but a chance to know more about a club not dissimilar to the Blues. In many ways the Fleet exhibit a similar profile to that of Billericay Town.

Both ambitious football clubs, funded by an individual benefactor, determined to achieve an ultimate objective of League football. In addition, as a point of comparison, it is worth considering the respective management teams. In Billericay Town’s Harry Wheeler and, the admittedly more experienced Daryl McMahon, we have two young (under-35), highly rated, hard-working, tactically astute managers.

For the fans, the game offers the first opportunity to assess the new signings made in the close season. On the back of successful previous campaigns, both sides retained the services of a high proportion of their playing staff for 2018-19. Billericay Town have brought in seven new players, with Joe Ellul, Ricky Hayles, Callum Kennedy, Jake Howells strengthening the back-line, Simon Walton increasing experience in central midfield, and, Connor Hunte and Moses Emmanuel adding extra pace up-front.

Ebbsfleet have two new signings, in Jack King and Ebou Adams, to increase options in central defence and midfield. With Billericay’s recruitment largely complete, Ebbsfleet may still be in the market for a new striker to supplement the ever-reliable goal-machine, Danny Kedwell.

Billericay’s visit to Kent represents a tough test against opposition that narrowly missed out on promotion to the Football League last year. A 6th place finish for Ebbsfleet saw the club progress to the play-off semi-finals before a narrow loss in extra-time to eventual winners, Tranmere Rovers.

The Essex side are, however, no strangers to success on the back of a treble winning season. With a side packed with National League experience – including two former Ebbsfleet players in Sam Deering and Adam Cunnington – the trip to one of the best sides in the top tier of Non-League football represents a good opportunity to evaluate the strength of the squad for the season ahead in the National South League.

Under impressive manager, Daryl McMahon, Ebbsfleet play an attractive brand of football often in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. Generally operating as a lone front man, Danny Kedwell, is ably assisted by the attacking trio of Corey Whitely, Luke Coulson, and the experience and passing quality from midfield of Andy Drury.

Whilst technically, the formation suggests a double-pivot, holding midfielder Dean Rance shone last season in a slightly freer role, allowing him to make forward runs, and inter-change with more defensive midfield partner, Jack Payne. We also think we should mention one of the best goal-keepers in Non-League football, Nathan Ashmore, who was in outstanding form last year.

Billericay Town have tended to shift formation during the course of the year shifting between a variety of line-up’s. However, we would characterise a blend of 4-3-3 and 3–5-2 as most representative of employed strategies to date.

With new personnel coming into the club suggesting a desire to play 3-5-2, it will be interesting to see how boss, Harry Wheeler, sets up. A pragmatic coach, with a growing track record in being flexible enough to make changes that deliver positive results, we expect him to keep his options open over pre-season.

After the long break since both sides last played in early May, the game offers a great chance to renew acquaintances with the players and get back down to your local club and support the early preparations for the start of the new campaign.

Further friendlies come thick and fast and seeing team shape coming together and new players adding extra options represents an exciting back-drop for the fans as the season preparation begins. Everybody going, please enjoy the game.

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