Few at Gillingham FC could have believed that their biggest game of the season would come against a side two divisions below them, from the Blue Square South division.
But that’s exactly the case as The FA Cup First Round draw paired the Gills with Dover Athletic in a rare Kent derby.
Dover have sold out their allocation of tickets, guaranteeing a fantastic atmosphere at Priestfield Stadium – all 2,400 seats in the Brian Moore Stand will be occupied by Whites fans hoping for an FA Cup giant-killing.
And, as even Gillingham’s fans would admit, the chances of a cup shock are better than average.
While free-scoring Dover are flying high in their division, Gillingham are in disarray in theirs. Their usually strong home form has evaporated this season as the Gills, tipped by pundits and bookmakers to be promotion contenders in League Two, sit mired at the wrong end of the table.
The fans are losing patience. Some have already lost it – graffiti was daubed over stadium doors after the club’s 2-0 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night – and sections of the crowd have already turned on manager Andy Hessenthaler, who was hailed as a returning hero after last season’s relegation under Mark Stimson.
And Hessenthaler’s presence in the Gillingham dugout, long with his assistants Ian Hendon, Nicky Southall and Darren Hare, means this tie has added spice. Hessenthaler left Dover for Gillingham this summer after guiding the Whites to three promotions. But the rather public nature of the move angered some Dover fans.
That Hessenthaler then took his coaching staff of Southall and Hare with him was an added blow.
Then, to add insult to injury, the man Hessenthaler recommended as his replacement at The Crabble, former Barnet boss Hendon, then performed a shock u-turn and joined Hessenthaler at Gillingham despite having already been announced as Dover’s new manager. It transpired no contract had been signed and the Gills took full advantage. Now under the stewardship of former Arsenal striker Martin Hayes Dover are out to prove a point.
With the Gills in a rut and Dover on a roll, this match promises to be a tough, tense affair.
Dover have been backed in from 7/1 to 4/1 with some bookies, reflecting the form of both sides. Dover will believe they can cause a shock result, while Gillingham desperately need not only a win but an impressive performance to give their season the kick-start it needs.
I’ll be tweeting live from the game from 3pm on Saturday afternoon @simonhead
Simon Head is the presenter of The Football Pubcast (www.footballpubcast.co.uk) and editor of independent Gillingham FC fan site Gills365 (www.gills365.co.uk)