10:00AM, Saturday 04 July 2020
After a four month break from competitive football, Slough Town boss Jon Underwood believes form will go completely out of the window when the Rebels host Dartford in their National League South play-off eliminator on July 18 or 19.
The players and management team were tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday evening and, if the tests all come back negative, the 20-man squad and coaching team were set to return for the first of their six training sessions today (Saturday).
Underwood said he’s excited to get back on the training ground with the players and added that it’s strange – and something of a luxury – to have two weeks to focus on just one game.
Dartford were in flying form when the season was brought to its premature conclusion back in March, while Slough had suffered three defeats in four, culminating in a poor home defeat to struggling Hungerford Town.
However, he says there’s no formula for these play-off matches and the circumstances that surround them, and he won’t mind a jot if the Rebels play poorly in that clash so long as they progress to the semi-finals. That would see them visit Havant & Waterlooville on either July 25/26 with the final scheduled for August 1-2.
“The result is everything in this game,” he said. “I don’t care if we’re terrible because if we beat Dartford it won’t matter.
“It’s about preparing the team to get a result and there are lots of thoughts about what we should do tactically in the game and we do have time to prepare the players for that.
“It’s no exaggeration to say the team that gets the tempo and intensity right is probably going to win the game. But none of us as managers have ever had this situation before. There’s no formula. The Dartford manager Steve King is very experienced at this level, but he’s never had to prepare his side in this way before. It’s not an exact science and you can’t be 100 per cent sure that the approach we take will be the right one until the game kicks off.
“I think form has gone out of the window. It’s probably not a bad thing for us actually. Because we’d lost three out of four going into the lockdown. We were beaten by Havant and Weymouth, who finished second and third, and we had a disappointing home defeat to Hungerford so we didn’t end that period very well whereas Dartford were flying. But I don’t think that will count for anything now. You could argue we have a better chance now than we would have done if things had carried on as normal. But that’s all speculation. You don’t know. Form has gone and everyone has got this short window to try and get ready.”
Slough had hoped to prepare for the game against Dartford by playing a warm-up friendly against a play-off side from the league above, but the National League have so far denied those requests, much to Underwood’s disappointment. He’s hoping they’ll have a change of heart on the matter but says the Rebels won’t worry about things they can’t control.
“We have explored the possibility of friendlies with a team from the league above but then we saw that they might not be allowed,” said Underwood.
“We’re looking for a bit more guidance on this and hopefully something will come out of this meeting today (Thursday). If it’s the same for everyone then we’re all in the same boat, but we’d like to get a game in and try to give ourselves some sort of advantage or preparation. You can play amongst yourselves but it’s never the same as playing a different opponent.
“It would be good to hold a practice game, I think they should be allowed but it’s out of our hands and we won’t worry too much about it.”
Underwood expects the players to return to training ‘further down the road’ in terms of fitness than they would for pre-season, but getting them up to speed for a competitive play-off contest in just two weeks will be a test of their management skills.
“Everyone’s been doing their own bits and pieces and they’ve ramped it up over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “A lot of the lads are quite local to each other so they’ve been getting together in threes, fours and fives and they’ve already done more ball work than they would have done before pre-season. It’s a short window to get us prepared but we’ll be in a good position to get ready.
“It’s about preparing to win one game of football, because all we can do at the moment is prepare to try and beat Dartford at home. Then we’ll look at the next one.
“From a coaching point of view, six sessions for one game is something we never usually have, it’s a luxury.”
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