After suffering play-off heartache with former club Braintree Town, defender Mark Phillips has set his sights firmly on promotion with his new club Ebbsfleet United.
The Iron produced “nothing short of a miracle” according to the former Millwall centre back as they made a mockery of being tipped as relegation candidates in pre-season.
Inspired by manager Danny Cowley, now in charge at Lincoln City, Braintree finished in third place in the Vanarama National League.
That in itself is a remarkable performance for a semi-professional outfit in a league where the majority of sides are ran on a full-time basis.
However, if you add in the fact that this was the Iron’s first season in non-league’s top tier and that they finished above the likes of former Football League clubs Tranmere Rovers, Grimsby Town and Wrexham, the true scale of their achievement starts to sink in.
It was a disappointing end to a remarkable season for the club as they were beaten over two legs by eventual play-off winners Grimsby Town but that should take nothing away from a truly astonishing season.
Phillips has now moved on to Ebbsfleet, a club that missed out on a promotion of their own last season, but he believes that their own disappointment can fire them to a more successful season this time around.
“Despite what happened last season it’s a positive environment to work in and is very similar to what I was used to with Braintree Town.
“Both clubs should have been promoted last season and what we did at Braintree was nothing short of a miracle but you can’t change what happened and it is the same with Ebbsfleet United.
“I always say that disappointment fuels the fire and the goal for us at Ebbsfleet is to get promotion this season and that ambition is the reason I came to the club”
Since completing his move to the Fleet, Phillips has been impressed with his new surroundings.
Manager Darryl McMahon has put together an impressive squad and they are guided by an equally impressive coaching staff that includes former Charlton and Brighton and Hove Albion manager Steve Gritt.
As the new season draws ever closer, Phillips believes that the Fleet squad are making the most out of the environment they are working in.
He said “I have been very impressed with the setup so far.
“Last year I was on a part-time schedule for the first time and you learn what constraints coaches have to work with.
“But here it is like a full-time outfit and we have structured sessions that get the best out of the players.
“I am sure the coaches would want more time with us but there have been massive positives like the trip to Portugal.
“Everything has been geared to getting up fully prepared and you have to be impressed with that”
Pre-season results have been a mixed bag so far for Phillips and his new team mates.
They have suffered defeats against Portuguese side SC Olhanense and Dartford, whilst claiming victories against Deal Town, Thamesmead Town, Billericay Town and Folkestone Invicta.
Two away trips remain on the pre-season schedule with Saturday’s visit to Sutton United being closely followed by a trip to Greenwich Borough.
And although that schedule has been tough, Phillips expressed his belief that the friendly fixtures gives the Fleet squad the ideal opportunity to be ready for the first day of the Vanarama National League South season when they host newly promoted
“It’s been a tough pre-season but a good one” said Phillips, “each friendly has had a purpose and they have served that purpose.
“They have been put together to give us the best chance of being ready for the start of the season, to make sure each player is fully prepared and I think that is what is happening”
Former Southend United defender Phillips has been one of a number of new additions to the Fleet squad during pre-season.
With manager McMahon looking to freshen up his squad he has brought in players with Football League experience.
But Phillips admitted that a number of the Fleet youngsters have caught his eye, as he looks to provide them with a solid platform to work from throughout the new season.
“We have a lot of quality in the squad and the manager has put that together over a number of years.
“Everyone in non-league knows about the players we have that have played in the Football League but I have also been impressed with a number of youngsters.
“There is definite talent in there and I’ll be focusing on keeping the goals out and allowing the more talented players to do their thing further up the pitch”
The Fleet find themselves amongst the favourites for National League South promotion once again this season.
That fact means little to Phillips as he stressed that he just wants his side to focus on their own performances and results rather than focusing on what tags have been placed upon them by the bookmakers.
“I’ve been around long enough to not buy into pressure or having a favourites tag.
“The pundits and bookies said Braintree were favourites for relegation last season but I knew as soon as I saw the squad in pre-season that we had potential.
“It is the same here and some may say we are among the favourites for promotion but we have to go out and do it.
“We have set our goal of promotion but we will show every opposition team respect and try to get three points. We know where we want to be and now we have to go out there and do it”
And if they can achieve that, there will be no disappointment at the end of the season for Mark Phillips and his Ebbsfleet United team mates.
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: www.actionimages.com / Ebbsfleet United