07:00PM, Friday 14 January 2022
Bracknell Town may have a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Isthmian League South Central Division, but Marlow boss Mark Bartley hasn’t given up hope the Blues can haul themselves back onto the Robins coattails and make it a real fight for the title.
Bracknell hold a 14-point lead over nearest rivals Chertsey Town and hold a 17-point lead over the Blues at around the halfway stage of the season. However, Bartley’s side have four matches in hand on them and also welcome the leaders to Oak Tree Road at the end of January, so it’s not inconceivable that the Blues could make up ground on them pretty quickly.
Whether they’ll be consistent enough to do that remains to be seen, but their recent form would suggest such a run can’t be ruled out completely.
After seeing a couple of their games postponed due to COVID cases in rival camps, the Blues convincingly won all three of their matches over the festive period without conceding a goal. Chalfont St Peter were dispatched 2-0 a couple of days after Christmas while Thatcham Town (2-0) and Binfield (3-0) were both defeated within the space of 72 hours.
The Blues had hoped to further cut the deficit to Chertsey and Bracknell on Saturday but their game at Sutton Common Rovers was one of many that fell victim to the awful weather and a waterlogged pitch.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s home game against Chipstead, Bartley said: “We’ve been able to make up most of the games on the teams around us. We’re still a couple of games behind Chertsey and four off Bracknell, as they’ve just managed to play so many games.
“We’ve also picked up three wins which puts us back into a decent position.
“It’ll be a lot of hard work, but we definitely want to get these games on.
“After this week we’ll be pretty much two games a week for the next six weeks. My belief is that the squads this year need to be bigger than normal because you’re going to have these condensed periods which will inevitably lead to more injuries and then you’ve got the x-factor of COVID where you’ll lose players. Like most clubs we’ve never had everybody available, and you know that at any stage your plans could have to change.
“We’ve tried to make our squad as deep as we possibly can and the two players we’ve just brought in (Harry and Alfie Grant) will help with that.”
While shooting for the title remains a long shot, simply because of the huge lead Bracknell have built up, Bartley hopes that if the Blues do end up missing out, they’ll have done well enough to comfortably secure a play-off place, their secondary aim.
“We look at where Bracknell are and if we win our games in hand, we’ll be the closest team to them,” he said. “We’ve also got them coming to ours in two or three weeks and that game will be huge.
“We’re still aiming for them at the top of the league but a by product of that is if we do have a decent run over the next three or four weeks then we’ll start to build some distance between ourselves and the sides that are just outside of the play-offs and that’s your secondary target.
“But the first thing you do is try to win the league.
He added: “We have a four-game spell where we play Bracknell, Uxbridge and Hanwell, but if we’re able to maintain our recent form through that period we’ll be right there.
“Chipstead are a dangerous side and they’re not often out of games. We’ve got to do a job on them. While we play them Bracknell play Uxbridge so something’s got to give this weekend. It could be a huge three points because one of our title rivals will have dropped points.”