Hastings United player-manager Sean Ray has dubbed the Boxing Day visit of Sussex rivals Lewes as “a massive game”.
The fledgling boss, pictured, believes the derby will give him an indication of how far his improving team have come and how far they have to go.
Lewes were installed as joint favourites for the Ryman Premier title (along with second-placed Lowestoft Town) at the start of the season and at present they sit five points off top spot in fourth position.
Hastings - who have won seven out of 12 in all competitions - are 15th but are looking up rather than down as they target a top half finish.
“It’s a massive game for us, we’re back at home for the first time in ages (since November 19) and we want three points on the board. We want to start climbing the table,” said Ray.
“Lewes will be well organised and look to play but it’s up to us to stop them, and make sure it’s us who play,” he went on. “The players will be in no doubt this is a massive game for us, it’s our local derby and we want to win.”
Ten places and 17 points might separate the two teams going into the game but Ray is backing the quality of his young squad.
“Lewes may have got a lot more money than us but that’s not a problem to me. I’m happy with what I’ve got, it’s all about the players on the day,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t beat them.
Ray begins a two-match suspension after being sent to the stand in the league defeat against AFC Hornchurch which of course also means he can’t play.
Hastings and Lewes have played one another in various cup competitions over the years - most recently in the Sussex Senior Cup in early 2010 - but amazingly, this is believed to be their first league meeting since the 1920s.
Other than the banned Ray, Hastings select from a full squad which means supporters will get to see Ben Davisson back at The Pilot Field.
BOXING DAY FOOTBALL
Ryman League, Premier Division: Hastings Utd v Lewes 3.
Sussex County League, Division 1: Sidley Utd v Rye Utd 11.
Division 2: Bexhill Utd v Little Common 11; Seaford Town v Westfield 11.