Ebbsfleet are a side who have a clear idea of how they want to play, but are still looking for the correct balance within that basic concept. They don’t tend to deviate from a basic 4-2-3-1 shape, but in recent games they have used different types of players in the second line, thus changing the emphasis of their attack. This culminated in their last match, at home to Leyton Orient, in which they put in a complete performance which has been described by some as their best of the season. As a consequence, it seems unlikely that they’ll deviate too far from how they lined up in that match against us.
Ebbsfleet want to pass their way through the thirds if they can, despite the temptation to look early for Danny Kedwell, who is an experienced and accomplished target man who is capable of dominating centre backs in the air. This can occasionally lead to problems when the opposing side press efficiently, and force errors when Ebbsfleet try to pass their way out of trouble.
Kedwell is particularly quick to see the possibilities for early lay-offs when runners go beyond him, as well as being good at winning aerial flick-ons, but when Ebbsfleet go long to Kedwell they often play the ball in too early, before runners are able to get close to him. Jack Powell showed on occasion an ability to time runs off Kedwell, but he did not start against Orient.
Instead, against Orient, Ebbsfleet used Josh Coulson in the hole behind Kedwell to good effect. Coulson is a versatile player who has been used on both flanks and in both attacking and defensive roles this season without holding down a regular position. He is two-footed but perhaps lacks the pace to play as an out-and-out winger, but in the hole his good movement was valuable, as he showed in the build-up to the first goal, which was the result of a slick move which looked prepared. Coulson ran wide, interchanging with Drury who fed him the ball and continued his run into the box to finish Coulson’s cross.
A possible alteration Ebbsfleet might make is in the centre of their defence. Chris Bush was suspended for the Orient game, and although he has played at left back in a couple of recent matches, he lined up in the centre of defence against Torquay and might do so again, replacing Yado Mambo. Mambo did not have an entirely convincing game at centre back against Orient: he had difficulty dealing with the physical threat posed by their target man, Matt Harrold.
Alternatively, Bush could return at left back, replacing Jack Connors, although Connors is far more progressive going forwards. Bush was shifted across to left back for the game at Sutton, possibly to add defensive height against a direct side, which meant there was less overlapping on that flank. Bush has played at left back before, but the move might have specifically been to accommodate Mambo in the centre of defence – Mambo was more impressive in the Sutton match and dealt with the high number of long balls into the box, perhaps because there was less movement from Sutton’s strikers in the box.
If Bush is not playing at full back, Ebbsfleet like to commit their full backs forward, with Connors being particularly adventurous, and keen not only to get forwards and deliver crosses, but also to take his man on high up the pitch. Against Torquay, he sometimes looked to come inside when he had the ball, making an extra man in the middle of the pitch. This was sometimes facilitated by Andy Drury, the central midfielder, making a lateral run across to the flank to offer width and look to confuse opponents with his swap of position.
Drury is very mobile and covers a lot of ground making these side-to-side runs, creating the possibility of overloads with the wide midfielders and full backs. On the other hand, when Ebbsfleet are in possession quite large gaps can appear between the central midfielders, which might offer the opportunity for a swift counter-attack between them if they lose the ball.
On the other flank, space was made for Sam Magri to overlap by the right-sided midfielder by Myles Weston being left-footed and keen to cut inside to cross or shoot, although Magri is not as eager as Connors to get beyond the wide man ahead of him.
Weston's movement inside is often a trigger for other player to occupy the space beyond him on the right flank. He often engages the full back and then waits for players to get close before cutting inside, allowing players to loop outside him.
In Weston’s absence at Sutton, Anthony Cook was introduced on the right flank, and he offered a similar threat with his pace. Against Orient, Weston returned to the left flank and Cook switched to the right, where he was perhaps less prominent.
Ebbsfleet clearly hoped to allow Weston to receive early possession to isolate the left back against him, and was the target of a number of big diagonals early in the game as they tried to play him in before Orient’s defensive shape could settle.
A feature of Ebbsfleet’s defending which was evident at Sutton but not otherwise in recent games, and which therefore probably is not significant, was that goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore was overly-keen to come out and claim the ball on the edge of the area when it was hit long, which caused problems for his centre backs at times. However, this might have been a direct instruction to try to deal with as much as possible to relieve his centre backs from the aerial onslaught rather than an indication of an under-lying weakness in the defence’s communication.