By Matt Bishop
New league leaders, a lowly giant gathering pace and more struggles on the road were the big stories in the National League on Saturday.
On a day where there were also signs of life at the bottom, and the extension of the only unbeaten record in Non-League’s top-tier, The NLP takes you through five things we learnt from the weekend’s action…
Dover are here to stay
The National League has a new club at its summit after Dover Athletic produced a brilliant performance away from home to beat fellow promotion hopefuls Aldershot.
It was their second stunning win on the road in a week, after they beat Tranmere at Prenton Park last Saturday evening, and this weekend’s 2-0 win in Hampshire shows that Chris Kinnear’s men could be here to stay.
With a host of teams in this league with bigger budgets and loftier expectations, it will of course be hard for Dover to win the league, but so far, they are looking like a great bet for the play-offs.
To lose the mercurial Ricky Miller, see a large turnaround in playing staff but still lead the way at this early stage is a brilliant credit to the club.
Giancarlo Gallifuoco and Kadell Daniel grabbed the goals on Saturday, but it was another excellent team effort to win three points and keep an impressive clean sheet.
In Mitch Walker, The Whites have an underrated ‘keeper at this level, and further forward, Ryan Bird will be hoping to continue his decent start to the season – and be the man to make sure Miller isn’t missed too much.
Great start to the season from @DoverAthletic massive turn around of players and losing 40 goals in Miller credit to Chris they are top.
— Adam Virgo (@Adamvirgs19) September 10, 2017
Leyton Orient continue to struggle away
While Dover look so encouraging on the road, Leyton Orient suffered another defeat away from Brisbane Road as a record crowd at Boreham Wood saw Steve Davis’ men lose 2-0.
1,920 people squeezed into Meadow Park on Saturday afternoon to see Dan Woodards and Kieran Murtagh fire the Wood up to eighth in the division, and condemn Orient to their third away defeat of the season.
A record of three defeats and two wins on the road is not completely disastrous, yet, but it is by no means encouraging, and Orient must find a way to grind out away victories if they want to return to the EFL at the first time of asking.
Last season, Lincoln City and Tranmere Rovers finished first and second in the National League, and they both tasted defeat away from home just five times – highlighting the importance of a good away record.
There is more than enough time for The O’s to improve on their away form, but they have to deal with the pressure of being a big draw for teams when they go on their travels. They can’t just rely on their excellent home record.
Hartlepool starting to gather pace
Like Orient, fellow National League newcomers Hartlepool haven’t always found life in Non-League easy, but while The O’s have adjusted reasonably well, especially at home, Pools are only now starting to show some encouraging signs.
Craig Harrison’s side are starting to gather some pace, after Jonathan Franks’ third goal in as many games condemned former leaders Dagenham & Redbridge to their first defeat of the season and earn Hartlepool a third win in a row.
Following poor defeats to the likes of Maidenhead and AFC Fylde, and after struggling to convert draws against the likes of Macclesfield and Chester into wins, another win this weekend against a very good side is a great sign.
Scott Loach produced a brilliant performance between the sticks, and while the Daggers had an array of chances as they looked to preserve their unbeaten start, Pools were resolute and stood firm to rise further up the table and into 19th.
— Behind the Goal (@markfletcher50) September 9, 2017
Ebbsfleet unbeaten – but they’re 17th
After Hartlepool beat John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge, the only unbeaten record that remains in the National League is Ebbsfleet’s as they drew 1-1 at struggling Chester.
The Fleet’s unbeaten record is absolutely brilliant, with Saturday’s draw against the Blues meaning Daryl McMahon’s men haven’t tasted defeat in a staggering 35 games – but is it starting to hamper them?
They might not have lost this season, but with five straight draws, and eight in total this term, Ebbsfleet are languishing in 17th and really need to start converting tight stalemates into three points.
Unbeaten runs can start to hamper the mindset of squads and supporters, with that desperation and excitement to extend the run completely understandable – but they’re more than capable of winning a lot of games in this league so must go for wins.
Two wins and one defeat is obviously better than three straight draws, for example. It will be a shame for the unbeaten run to end, but maybe it won’t be such a bad thing? It could allow them more freedom.
Signs of life at Torquay
Draws might be a common occurrence at Ebbsfleet, but in Devon, they are a sure sign of improvement and a cause for optimism.
Torquay claimed their third point in a row as they held high-flying Wrexham to a 0-0 draw at Plainmoor. The point, and the clean sheet, are huge positives for the National League’s bottom side.
Tomorrow night, The Gulls travel to Bromley and that will be a very tough away trip, but Torquay have shown desire and growing confidence in their last three games, and were arguably unlucky not to be Dean Keates’ side on Saturday.
Once again, teenager George Dowling looked good for Torquay and caretaker boss Robbie Herrera told The NLP: “A point is a point and a clean sheet is massive for us at the moment.” Will they build on it tomorrow?