LEE Phillips fired Weymouth back into the Dr Martens Premier Division promotion race with a stunning hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Folkestone Invicta at Cheriton Road.

The 21-year-old hot-shot struck his second treble in consecutive games as the Terras recorded their first away victory since their 2-1 success over Newport County on October 22.

And boss Andy Mason today heaped praise on his young striker who has now netted 18 times in all competitions this season.

"Lee was in great touch," said the player-manager, "and he took all three of his goals really well. His pace at times is absolutely frightening and opponents just don't know how to deal with him.

"He was going through a little bit of a lean spell until recently but he came back with a hat-trick against Allendale in the Dorset Senior Cup. He's now followed up with another in the league.

"It's all about confidence when you're a striker and Lee's is sky high after this performance and that's just what we need going into this crucial stage of the season."

Despite climbing one place to fifth in the table, Mason refused to get carried away by the result.

"It was a must-win game for us in terms of our promotion hopes," he admitted, "and a defeat would have left us with an awful amount to do. But three points keeps us up there in the melting pot, although there's a long way to go yet.

"Crawley's defeat against Welling has done us no harm but I'm far more worried about Kettering, Tamworth and Havant and so we'll just have to see what happens.

"All we can do is concentrate on the games ahead of us and focus on nothing other than the next one which is Hinckley at home on Saturday. If we can win that and get on the sort of unbeaten run which we enjoyed this time last year then who knows."

With Jason Rowbotham suspended and skipper Alex Browne out injured, the Terras lost another experienced head in the shape of defender Ryan Cross, just hours before setting off to Kent.

Mason explained: "Ryan was in a bad way Saturday morning with the flu and didn't travel and so Danny Bews was drafted in from the reserves to sit on the bench with myself and Martin Underhay. But fortunately we suffered no more injuries and hopefully everyone including Kevin Parker will be back available at the weekend."

He added: "But I was delighted with the boys who did play in what was a slightly alien 4-3-3 formation and I thought it was one of the best all-round team performances for quite a while. In truth we probably had enough chances to have won by seven or eight, but I'm happy to settle for a 3-1 away win against anyone in this league."

* Phillips' two hat-tricks in consecutive games puts him in the company of some great names from the Terras' past, according to club statistician Nigel Biddlecombe.

He explained: "The last player to score hat-tricks two games running was Marcel Gaillard in April 1955 against Gravesend in the Southern League and Dorchester in the Dorset Senior Cup. Earlier that season it was done by Dave Massart against Tonbridge and Bath and Massart also achieved the same feat in the previous campaign of 1953-54."

He added: "Others who have done it include Andy Anderson (47-48) and Farmer Haines (34-35) and so Lee is certainly in some very good company."