Flackwell Heath lay solid foundations as they push for top four finish

Callum Mapley

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Promotion and title challenges are often said to be built on a team's defence and if that's the case it bodes extremely well for Flackwell Heath's hopes next season - providing they can keep the core of the squad together.

Chris Ayres and Paul Shone may have arrived just a little too late in the season to spark a challenge this season, but four successive wins - built on four consecutive clean sheets - has lifted the Heathens to fifth in the Spartan South Midland Premier Division standings, just three points behind Leighton Town who they visit this Saturday.

Whether they'd have been able to challenge New Salamis or Risborough Rangers for the title this season will remain an unknown but what can't be disputed is that Flackwell have been one of the division's form sides since Ayres and Shone took over from Marcus Richardson in the Wilks Park dug out.

On Saturday they edged out Holmer Green 1-0 in a local derby, Fabian Driffill scoring the game's only goal with a belting free kick just after half-time. While on Tuesday night they progressed to the semi-finals of the Premier Division Cup, Callum Mapley scoring the game's only goal against the Oxhey Jets just before the break.

“Funnily enough we've struggled a little bit adapting to the pitch surfaces because the weather has changed and the pitches have dried out,” said Ayres.

“We've had to adapt the way we play, and we've lost a little bit of our creativity and when that's the case you have to have a very solid base. We’re still trying to play football, but it’s become a challenge, however, defensively we've been fantastic and that's four clean sheets on the bounce now.

“You've always got a chance of winning games of football if you don't let goals in at the other end.

“We played Oxhey Jets a few weeks ago in the league and convincingly beat them 4-0 but last night (Tuesday) they were very good at playing into good areas and they caused us problems.”

The Heathens visit a Leighton side under new management on Saturday and with several new players signed up ahead of this week’s deadline. How they perform could dictate which way the result goes, but Ayres says his players are looking forward to the challenge.

“It's a massive test for us and we've got a few injuries as well, but the boys who've come in have done well,” he said. “They’ve brought a new manager in this week, and I also know some of the players they’ve brought in are coming from a higher level. They’re always a tough proposition and they usually have a big crowd, but it will be a good test for us and we’re really looking forward to it. Let’s see how they get on and cope with it.

“We’ve also managed to sign striker Callum Bunting from Binfield, I know Callum through coaching him when he was younger. He’ll give us something different up front. He’s a goal scorer but he’s very good with his back to goal. It gives us another option.”

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