Chichester City head towards the end of 2018 top of the Southern Combination League - but know it will be tough to stay there.
The Oaklands Park outfit went back to the summit with a 1-0 win away to previous leaders Horsham YMCA last Saturday courtesy of Ellis Martin’s 83rd-minute penalty.
Injuries are testing the strength of the squad and although boss Miles Rutherford has plenty of players to pick from, he says he knows how hard it will be for City to maintain their excellent league form and turn it into a serious title bid in the second half of the season.
Rutherford, assistant manager Graeme Gee and coach Danny Potter are pleased to have reached the halfway point of the season challenging for honours.
Saturday’s home encounter marks the exact halfway point of their league season – while Boxing Day’s visit to Pagham - who won 5-0 at Oaklands Park on the same date last year – is another stiff test of their credentials.
Rutherford said his target was to continue their good run of form and be at near the top at the end of the season, but he admitted it would be difficult.
He said: “We want to have the same second half as we have first half of the season. Hopefully, we can stay up there.
“We know it’s going to be tough, we’re not going to kid ourselves. There are some tough sides in the league, Pagham being one of them, and the top five or six can push to the end of the season.
“Someone will come out of the pack, a bit like Eastbourne Town at the minute – they are flying and I think they will push towards the end of the season.”
Chi have won 14 of their 18 league games to date and are on a four-game winning streak in the premier division as Rutherford rotates his team looking to keep the starting XI fresh for each game.
He said: “We’ve got a big squad this year so we’re making changes through different games. Sometimes, it is not through people playing poorly; sometimes we feel different players will do a better job in different games.
“It’s a good position to be in. We’ve got a lot of players available and we’re mixing it around, and everyone seems okay with that at the minute.”
Chi are missing some key midfield men, with Lorenzo Dolcetti, George Way, Ross Edwards and Dan Hegarty all out injured. The club fear Hegarty’s injury could take a while to heal but hope the others will hope to be back fairly soon.
Rutherford said: “We have missed a few of those over the past six to seven games, but without them, we have done okay. But we are looking forward to having a couple of them back, if not three of them, over the Christmas period.”
The City boss, who has also added former Wick manager Lee Baldwin to his backroom team, was pleased to see his team grind out a win at Horsham YMCA in awful weather conditions last SAturday.
He said: “I was happy with the result. The game was ruined by the weather. The pitch was really good, but the game wasn’t great. It was a bit scrappy but we got the result we wanted.
“At the moment, we are just battling through the games, which is a good thing because they are showing their dogged determination... we’re doing okay at the minute.”
Chi City’s weekend visitors Hassocks are 17th in the league while their Boxing Day hosts Pagham are hot on the heels of the top four.