CHRISTCHURCH boss Graham Kemp admits his men will be facing a “different monster” when they renew hostilities with Sydenhams Premier title rivals Blackfield & Langley tomorrow.
Although the mid-table Watersiders are 14 points adrift of third-placed Christchurch, Ashley Vickers’ stellar squad have five games in hand due to excellent FA Cup and Vase runs and are widely considered to be among the favourites for the league. Priory, who have regularly punched above their financial weight under Kemp's guidance, will face the likes of ex-Saint Kevin Gibbens and prolific striker Alex Baldacchino in the potentially mouth-watering showdown at Gang Warily.
Christchurch beat Blackfield 3-0 when they met in the league in August and manager Kemp insists his team has the quality to match them. But he expects the challenge to be far more difficult this time round.
He said: “They are serious contenders. The games in hand could become a problem if it goes on much longer, but they have a big squad.
“They didn't start the best but, once they gelled, they became as good as anyone in the league. They will fancy their chances.
“They are playing a bit of catch up but, quite rightly, they would expect to be called favourites.
“It took a little while and we were quite lucky to play them quite early. We played well and beat them, but they will be a different monster now.
“They will treat us with respect. We are up there on merit and, on our day, we are as good as anyone in the league.”
Much has been said about Blackfield’s financial muscle but Kemp believes counterpart Vickers has spent well and pointed to the club’s run to the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup as proof.
He added: “To be fair to Blackfield, they have had a couple of good cup runs and have probably won in prize money what they have spent.”
Christchurch will need to be back to their best to beat the Watersiders, who have not lost at home in any competition this season.
Priory won 4-3 at AFC Portchester last Saturday, having dropped five of their six previous points, but Kemp was far from satisfied with the performance.
“We’ve been a bit up and down form-wise,” he said. “We were poor last Saturday and looked like we were going to concede a lot.
“We had the best defensive record in the league, but we’re letting in a couple more now and scoring a couple fewer.”
Asked his thoughts on the title race, Kemp – a veteran of over 800 Wessex games as a player and nine years as a manager – said: “Eight clubs must fancy their chances.
“Every week someone drops points and lets someone else back into the frame.
“Blackfield and Downton are flying and Bemerton are on a good run, but it’s a tight race which will go all the way.
“People say the standard of the league has dropped and it probably has slightly, but the one thing it’s done is to bunch teams together more which makes it more exciting.”
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