Ebbsfleet United manager Daryl McMahon cut a relaxed figure at Stonebridge Road after guiding his side into their third promotion final in four years but he accepted that next Saturday’s game is hardly likely to be described in terms of relaxation.
“[Chelmsford] have got two big strikers, three big midfield players, three big centre halfs, they’re a big side,” McMahon told BBC Radio Kent’s Matt Cole. “Rod [Stringer] I know pretty well, I’m sure it will be a blood and thunder game. We’re happy we’re in the final and whoever it was, we’d have looked forward to playing against them. I’m sure it’ll be a sellout and they’ll probably have to turn people away. Chelmsford are a big club with a decent fanbase, the same as ourselves.”
And the Fleet boss thinks the Clarets will be a similar proposition to Hampton & Richmond Borough in their approach. “They worked very hard, Hampton, they’ve been a credit in these two games, a very good side. They get it forward quickly, win second balls, you’ve got to have the confidence and quality to get it down and play. I thought in both first halves, that’s what we did, we got the ball down and moved it nicely.”
McMahon was pleased his side came through a second-half test but said he wasn’t surprised the tie was nip and tuck until Darren McQueen’s late clinching goal. “I thought the first half we played particularly well, the second half was very bitty, stop-start, ugly to watch probably. We had a number of opportunities to kill the game off but we didn’t take them until right at the death. Darren did and that was the game done. Obviously the overriding emotion is joy, happy we’re in the final and look forward to next week now.
“It’s always nervous in these situations, you [don’t] very often see a really clear-cut play-off semi-final, or final for that matter. They’re normally really close affairs and I’m sure it will be similar next week. Chelmsford will play a similar style to that.”
With one final each as a Fleet player and manager behind him, the boss knows how much next week will mean to Fleet fans. “It’s huge for the club,” he said. “We’ve had a terrific season and it would be the icing on the cake to win promotion. Chelmsford will say the same, getting to the final and being 90 or 120 minutes away from the next level.
“You go through different spells in the season. Going back to Chelmsford early on when we weren’t in a great position and everything’s wrong and it’s about evolving as a group. And the group’s evolved really well since the turn of the year, I think that’s 22 games – 19 wins and three draws. As well as being a good football team you’ve got to have togetherness and the mental strength to do that and this group’s got that in abundance.”