STANSTED (A) PREVIEW


A bus-only awayday. A welcome break in a somber boycott. A Tons team in serious form against our cup-winning ex-manager’s new club. We’re calling it now: this weekend’s visit to Stansted is going to be Too Much.We have to start with the obvious. It’s poignant to be reunited with our old gaffer, Mike Walther, especially with everything that has been going on at the Old Spotted Dog lately.

After all, Mike had a seriously strong squad, an historic Gordon Brasted Cup Final victory (against Stansted, funnily enough), and a crowd of supporters whose respect he had earned the hard way.

Yet he still looked at all of this and opted to take up a less senior position at Stansted. What, asked everyone, could have attracted him to a job twice as far from his Canvey home – or driven him from Clapton?

We can expect to see some old friends in the home XI, too. Cup-winner Euan Taylor Reid recently rejoined Walther in a side now captained by our much-missed fullback, Luke Kanjor. However, the exodus of players following Walther north never materialised. And while Stansted are having a season of fits and farts, though, Clapton go into the game with their tails high.

The Tons’ (probably) historic away league form has already been noted. The 2-1 win FC Romania was the seventh away league win in a row. Arguably it was the most impressive of the lot, with the team bouncing back from a home equaliser to seal the points with real authority.

This away form is a real boost for fans who are opting not to attend home games – and the win at FC Romania was all the sweeter for this, and the opportunity to demonstrate their unity with the players.

But the focus on the away run will have given way to a slightly more disconcerting sense of anticipation after Tuesday’s 4-0 hammering dished out to Basildon.

Any Ultras who stole a glimpse of Tuesday’s game through the fences saw a team playing with genuine threat. Jay Knight, who got both goals at FC Romania, was partnered up front by another returning hero, Ike Nzuruba. Having played 4-2-3-1 almost his entire time in charge, Fowell lined his team up in an assertive 4-4-2 formation. And they ran riot.

With a pair of goalscoring strikers, wingers, and an actual keeper (rather than a selfless club legend) in goal, it was possibly Fowell’s strongest line-up yet.

And then you take a step back, and you look at the rest of the season. At the fixture list. And you start to take some Clapton players’ tweets about having a go for the league a bit more seriously.

Because, it’s not just seven away wins in a row, it’s nine league games unbeaten – and it’s just one league defeat since that horrible little run in October. In this period we haven’t been beating the (with all due respect) makeweights in the ESL, but teams that were expected to challenge this season like Basildon, Waltham Forest, Ilford and Takeley.

With our feet firmly on the ground, the prospects of a Clapton title push remain slim.

There are two big factors (and a third if you include a resurgent Southend Manor, who currently stand 2nd) that stand in the way of us getting carried away just yet.

First, there’s the likelihood of Clapton bringing their away form back to E7. Ten of our remaining fixtures are at home, and while it’s well known that no one likes going to the Dog, with or without hot water, it is a far more imposing place when the Ultras are inside rather than outside. The Basildon win was recorded in silence.

Then there’s the fact that the title, in all honesty, is Barking’s to lose. They have the points in the bag and an experienced squad with quality and strength in depth.

However, they are still in a couple of cups, and share their frost-and-flood-prone pitch with West Essex. They are already starting to stockpile league fixtures, while Clapton will soon be playing Saturdays only.

Any scenario where Clapton emerge somehow victorious would pivot on Barking slipping up hugely. It would also require a drop more dramatic license. But that could also be in store.

In keeping with the ESL fixture computer’s sense of humour, Clapton are without a game on the final day of the league season. Were they to sit top of the league by then, their hopes would rest with Barking’s final-day opponents: Stansted, and Mike Walther.

It is the hope that will kill us.

Prediction: after getting carried away with all these dramatic threads, a dull af 0-0 is nailed on.

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