Horndean prepare for ‘free hit’ as they attempt to extend remarkable winning Wessex League run against AFC Portchester
Horndean bid to extend their winning Wessex League run against AFC Portchester to a staggering eight matches on Tuesday.
But Deans boss Michael Birmingham insists the Five Heads Park clash is a ‘free hit’ against the team he believes are Premier Division title favourites.
Horndean have won the last seven league games since a 3-0 home win for the Royals in March 2016 - goals coming from Joe Bye, Steve Ramsey and current Horndean skipper Ash Howes.
On their last visit to Horndean in January of this year, Portchester were caned 6-0 - Sean McMonagle (3), Alfie Lis (2) and Jack Maloney on target.
But Birmingham is adamant history counts for nothing.
'AFC Portchester are a quality side and have to be favourites to win the league,' he declared.
'They possess top players in Steve Ramsey, Dan Wooden, Jason Parish, Nathan Paxton and Owen Fee.
'With their budget they must expect to get promotion.
'We have finished above them in the last few years but that is gone and in the past.
'I regard this as a free hit for us.’
Horndean are capable of raising their game against the top teams, having completed the double over leaders Alresford already.
'We have beaten top sides already this year,’ Birmingham added.
'You often find the underdog minnows can raise their game against the big fish
'However, we deservedly lost our last local derby at Fareham (last Tuesday) when they were better than us.
'If we are to give ourselves a chance to win then we must maintain our hard work and keep playing with honesty.'
Deans are without the suspended Maloney.
A Royals win would cut the gap on Alresford to six points with two games in hand.
They could leap up to second, but in order to do so Christchurch would have to fail to beat rock bottom Amesbury.
'This should be a cracking derby,' said Portchester boss Mick Catlin.
'Horndean have only lost three league games this season.
'It is a tough place to go, particularly on their sloping pitch.
'We are going there with a positive approach looking to win the game.
'That has been our approach all season and we have only drawn one game.
'If we have our strongest team out, then we are strong enough to win it.'
Catlin is waiting on the fitness of Alex Baldacchino who played a full 90 minutes at Bournemouth at the weekend - scoring the only goal - following an 18 month lay-off.
'We will have to see if Alex has had any reaction,' said Catlin.
Parish is regarded as only 50-50 but the Royals expect to have Wooden - 12 Wessex goals to his name this season - and Paxton back.
Pete Stiles is looking for three points at Brockenhurst after Fareham suffered a disappointing defeat at Shaftesbury.
'Brockenhurst are close to us in the league so it isn't going to be easy,' he said.
'The Shaftesbury defeat was a big let down.
'After conceding three goals in the opening 15 minutes we played well.
'At the end of the day, though, we came away empty-handed.'
Dan Clasby remains suspended and Tom Settle hasn't recovered from injury.
Top scorer Josh Benfield is an injury doubt but the Reds hope to have Jack Breed available.