01:00PM, Saturday 11 July 2020
The Rebels have beaten Dartford twice this season – coming from two goals down to secure a 3-2 win in a thriller at Princes Park in September before edging them out 1-0 at home thanks to a Dan Roberts goal in January. But joint manager Neil Baker doesn’t believe that will give the side any psychological advantage going into their National League South play-off eliminator at Arbour Park on Sunday week (July 19, 3pm kick-off).
Looking ahead to the tie, Baker said you couldn’t ‘completely rip up’ what’s gone before, but admitted previous form is likely to count for very little when the sides walk out against each other in just over a week’s time.
The Rebels returned to group training last Saturday and were set to play their first full-contact football in an in-house training game on Thursday.
They also have a friendly match set up against Brackley Town of the National League North today (Saturday).
The players have returned in good condition and are looking reasonably sharp, given their lack of football over the past three and a half months, and – while Baker admits it’s going to be difficult – he believes they’ve got just as good a chance as any team to get promoted.
“I think you could literally pick the team out of a hat,” he said.
“I don’t think any form will come into it because no one is in any form.
“It’s going to be difficult, I won’t lie. I think we’re in a reasonably good position in terms of the squad and they’re very together, but then so are a number of the other sides.
“We’ve got as much chance as anyone else in this. I know Weymouth and Havant have the advantage of having one less game to play, but you could argue that playing one extra game gives you a slight advantage in these play-offs. Normally you’re going into the play-offs off the back of a really tough season, you’re shattered, and you’re having to play on a Wednesday night before going somewhere on the Saturday to play a team that’s had a week’s rest. That’s normally a big advantage and we don’t have to do that this time which is a positive.
“But first of all we just have to think about getting past Dartford.
“Dartford were in brilliant form, but we beat them twice this season, once with Steve King as manager and once without.
“I always look back to previous play-off campaigns and in the one before we got promoted, we lost to Leamington, having beaten them 6-0 and 2-0 during the season. So I don’t put any emphasis on the fact that we’ve beaten Dartford this season. That’s completely gone, as is form.
“Both teams will obviously want it on the day but it’s about the side who falls into the game quicker.”
Baker expects the shape of the Dartford side to be similar to earlier this season, but admits you can’t even take that for granted after such a long lay off. He says there’s no point in focusing on the opposition, because there’s very little information to be gathered on the Darts at present. Instead they'll focus on preparing the Rebels as best they can to win the tie.
“You’d expect team shapes to be similar to what they were playing in the season,” he said. “I don’t think you can completely rip that up, but you never know, and that’s the difference.
“You’ve got no way of getting information in that respect and all you can do is prepare your own players and hope for the best.
“For the winners it might help playing a quarter final tie. But, if we win, we’d have to go to Havant and that’s an extremely tough game. We’ve not scored there this season and were 2-0 down in the abandoned game and then lost 1-0 there and we didn’t create loads of chances either.”
Baker also promised that the tie with Dartford will be streamed for fans, but at present it’s still unclear who will be providing that service. The game is set to kick-off at 3pm on Sunday, July 19.
“It will be streamed but I think at the moment we’re not sure who’s going to be doing it,” he added.
“There’s talk of BT streaming a service, the National League streaming a service or us (through FC Video) streaming a service. I don’t know who, or what the details will be, but it will 100 per cent be streamed so supporters will get the opportunity to watch it.”
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