ROB Small believes Bowers & Pitsea go into their Isthmian North clash with Heybridge Swifts as underdogs.

Bowers, who ensured they will bag a play-off place as the bare minimum thanks to a 3-1 win over Mildenhall Town last time out, welcome Jody Brown’s side to the Len Salmon Stadium tonight.

Heybridge are currently fifth in the Isthmian North standings, but have been playing catch-up for large spells of the campaign thanks to extensive runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy.

Swifts reached round one of the FA Cup before being eliminated by League Two high-flyers Exeter City, while National League side Maidstone United overcame Heybridge in the FA Trophy’s second round.

And Small believes AFC Hornchurch would not have been crowned champions on Tuesday night had tonight’s visitors not been distracted by their cup exploits.

The Bowers boss said: “They are one of the best teams in the league.

“Were it not for their exploits in the FA Cup and FA Trophy, I don’t think Hornchurch would have been crowned champions this early in the season.

“They have some great players and it will be a difficult match for us.”

A home win would see Bowers leapfrog Potters Bar Town into the automatic promotion places.

Small’s charges are currently one point adrift of second place, albeit with two games in hand.

But Bowers will be without the club’s all-time leading goalscorer Lewis Manor, who was shown a straight red card in the late win over Dereham Town earlier this month.

And Small admitted that being without Manor is a blow.

“We are on the back foot because of the suspension and injuries,” added Small.

“It’s something we have to live with, but I think that we would be the underdogs against Heybridge whether we have Lewis available or not.

“We are at home and in a good place, so it’s important that we build on our good form tonight.”

Away trips to Soham Town Rangers and Hertford Town follow tonight’s encounter, while Bowers will round off the campaign at home to Brentwood Town.

And Small has set his players a new target.

“It’s a huge achievement to have already secured a play-off place,” admitted Small.

“We are still scratching our heads as to how we have done it.

“The next target is to secure a home tie in the play-offs.”