AFTER a 12-day break, Chard return to Toolstation Western League Division One action on Saturday when they entertain mid-table Ashton & Backwell Utd (ko 3pm), writes Colin Dunford.

The visitors, who have had a very unpredictable season, beat Chard 3-0 on their own ground in early September.

Chard, who will be missing striker Steve Friend for a few more weeks with a hand injury, are hoping that several more of their players who have been nursing minor knocks will be fit enough to return.

Chard manager Paul Down said: “We head into the new year in our best form of the season so far, with back-to-back away wins at Hengrove and Wincanton on top of a fine win at home against then league leaders Keynsham.

“After a slow first half at Wincanton we showed a great will to win and ran out deserved winners in the end, thanks to good finishes from our strikers Scott Martin and James Boyland.

“But John Hill’s save 10 mins from time was match-winning in itself with the score at 2-1 - it was the save of the season, as he dived low to his right and somehow flicked it out for a corner.

“It was a very satisfying result.”

Down added: “As we look back on the season so far we have to be happy with ninth at Christmas.

“We would certainly have settled for that at the start, given that we had to assemble a complete new squad just to start the season at Radstock - that was a minor miracle.

“I was confident we would strengthen and improve over time.

“We knew at the outset our home form was going to be crucial in terms of points and that proved correct,” he explained.

“It was frustrating for fans and the committee that we couldn’t find the same form away from home but given our circumstances at the start of the season I expected this sort of inconsistency.

“I have to pay tribute to our chairman Lyndsey Gage and his committee; they have been nothing but supportive of the players and management.

“The club couldn’t be in better hands in my opinion - it has been a pleasure to manage at Chard.”

Looking ahead, Down said: “Our goals for the rest of the season are to secure a top-half finish, continue to improve and develop our younger players like Jack Dicker, Scott Jakeman, Matthew Howell, Luke Jackson, Bradley Miles and Ryan Mason, and also help the more senior players improve and become more consistent in their game.

“Apart from Steve Friend, we have a fully fit squad for Ashton and Backwell Utd on Saturday.”