AFC Portchester have a point to prove as they go head-to-head against Wessex premier title-chasing rivals Blackfield & Langley at Gang Warily tomorrow (3pm).
The Watersiders beat the Royals convincingly 5-2 at the Blanchard Wells Stadium in their first meeting in the early weeks of the season.
Portchester assistant-manager Steve Johnson, however, feels the visitors are better equipped this time round.
‘There are no excuses this time,’ said Johnson.
‘In the first game we were hit by unavailability and suspension so included a number of youngsters.
‘We don’t have that problem this time and can field a healthy squad.
‘These are the games that make the biggest difference in a season so it is important that we come away with something.
‘It is how you do against the other top sides that is the key to being successful at the end of the season.
‘The title won’t be won or lost over Christmas but this is a crucial game.
‘We are 12 games unbeaten in the league so we can go into it in a confident frame of mind.
‘Our main priority is to start taking the early opportunities that we are creating in games.’
The Royals paid the price for not doing that in their 2-0 Hampshire Senior Cup defeat at home to Sholing Sports.
Johnson was disappointed by the result, particularly as the home side once again had good chances.
It was a harsh lesson for Portchester but Graham Rix’s number two is still encouraged by the fact his team are creating the chances in the first place.
‘That is all down to our work ethic with and without the ball,’ added Johnson.
‘When we lose the ball we work hard to win it back quickly and then put pressure on the opponents’ backline.
‘Once we start turning this into goals then it will make life easier.
‘Against the lower teams you can get away with it but there is less margin for error against the top sides.’
Johnson is also impressed by the determination and spirit being displayed when his team find themselves in difficult situations.
At Amesbury the Royals came away with a 3-2 win despite having Joe Noakes sent off on the stroke of half-time.
They felt a little aggrieved by the incident and displayed a great siege mentality in the second half to come away with the points.
Johnson added: ‘The players showed great character and mental resilience.’
Noakes is available, playing his final game before starting a three-match ban.
The visitors are also boosted by the return of Jack Salter-Vaile in their midfield.
Salter-Vaile has been unavailable for most of the season because of work and part-time fireman duties.
AFC Portchester: Scott, Evans, Warren, Moody, Wells, Bye, Kirby, Salter-Vaile. Noakes, Baldacchino, Clark, Everett, Robbins, Easter, Wells, Mukerjee