THE last two Ryman Premier champions – Billericay Town and Sutton United – will meet for the first time in the Conference South tomorrow.
Billericay held off late pressure from Hornchurch to go up last year, while Sutton cantered away with the title the season before.
That last meeting between the two sides in late April 2011 ended in a 1-0 win for Town with a 74th minute winner from Tony Boot.
The only player still at Billericay who started that day is winger Junior Luke, and he says the side has made great progress since then.
He said: “I think that team we had back then was a good side on paper, and a very good footballing side.
“But sometimes with that side we could not get the momentum we needed to carry us through and we lacked the character needed to win games.
“But last season we would just bombard teams and our work rate was terrific, and we would keep going until we got a result.
“Basically the squad we’ve got together now just has that will to win, and we have great team spirit whether we lose or win.”
Luke missed Billericay’s last game – a 4-2 win at Truro on January 12 – with a hamstring injury.
He says tomorrow’s game may come too soon for him as he continues his rehab, but he hopes to perhaps come into contention for Tuesday’s visit of Eastbourne.
Like admits, like so many clubs, the bad-weather postponements have been hugely frustrating, but said they did some indoor conditioning work this week.
He said: “What we need to do is build on that performance against Truro when we play Sutton.
“It’s a crazy league where a couple of wins can take you into the play-off places, and we want to make home advantage count.”
Sutton will start the game second-from-bottom, but they are only two points behind 15th-placed Billericay in what is a very congested table.
Billericay striker Joe Benjamin is suspended.
Bury Town were appealing for people to help clear the snow off the pitch at Ram Meadow yesterday in a bid to get tomorrow’s Ryman Premier game with Concord Rangers on.
Sixth-placed Concord are level with seventh-placed Bury on 35 points and both are pushing for a return to the play-off places.
Like so many clubs, the Beachboys will be desperate to play after nearly three weeks out of action because of the freezing weather.
Concord cleared their pitch of snow this week and offered Bury the chance to reverse the fixture and travel to Essex tomorrow – but they declined.
Concord manager Danny Cowley said: “It’s their prerogative to do that, and I can understand it because they will feel they can get a better crowd by having it on a Saturday rather than hosting us on a Tuesday.
“We know they’ve made efforts to clear the pitch and now we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that it is on.
“To be honest, we’ll be disappointed if it does not go ahead now.
“And if it is on it should be a good game. I think they are as good a footballing side as there is in the division and if we take anything away from a trip there I will be happy.”
Concord’s influential player coach Nicky Cowley is suspended for the game.
The Gulls have been down to the bare bones with their squad since the turn of the year, but have still managed three league wins from five to move into the final play-off spot.
Harrow start the weekend one place above the relegation zone but they’ve found some steady form of late with a win, three draws and a defeat from their last five matches.
The Gulls won the reverse fixture 3-1 in October.
Sam Higgins could return to the East Thurrock squad for tomorrow’s scheduled trip to Margate.
Rocks’ top-scorer has had a lengthy lay-off with a hamstring tear, but manager John Coventry said there’s a chance he may be on the bench at Hartsdown Park.
He said: “Higgo could be in the squad but it would only be to give him 10 minutes if we are in a position to do that in the game. He’s a long way off being match fit.”
Margate, third in the Ryman Premier, appointed their goalkeeper Craig Holloway as caretaker manager this week following the departure of Chris Kinnear to take over at Dover.
Holloway has brought in former Margate favourite Danny Hockton and former Crystal Palace, Wolves, Gillingham and Walsall midfielder Simon Osborn, to assist him.
Coventry said: “When a new manager comes in like this you are never sure how a team will react. But they are third for a reason, so it will be tough.”
Margate appealed for volunteers to clear their pitch of snow this week in a bid to try and get tomorrow’s game on, and Coventry said the main concern is likely to be over whether it is water-logged.
The teams played out a goalless draw at Rookery Hill in early December in a match which Coventry felt they could easily have won.
Coventry said that Concord’s re-arranged league cup quarter-final with Wroxham on Tuesday has left them without a game that night, so he is trying to arrange a friendly.
Followers of the Step 5 game in south Essex will again be studying the weather forecast and keeping their fingers crossed for kind weather ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled Essex Senior League programme.
The Bees are set to go to Eton Manor tomorrow, while Bowers have a trip to Takeley.
Southend Manor are away to leaders Burnham Ramblers, and second-placed Great Wakering Rovers are due to host Sawbridgeworth Town.
Hullbridge Sports are set to go to London Bari.