09:00AM, Saturday 19 September 2020
Neil Baker has admitted Tuesday’s 7-1 friendly defeat at the hands of Boreham Wood wasn’t a great watch for the Rebels’ management team, but he’s keen for the players not to overreact to it and lose confidence.
Having returned to pre-season training two weeks ago the Rebels are still searching for match sharpness ahead of the new campaign, and that lack of conditioning was ruthlessly exposed by Luke Garrard’s slick Boreham Wood side at Arbour Park.
Perhaps strangely, given the final score, Baker was happy with certain aspects of the Rebels’ performance, but he admits there’s a need to improve on their fitness and match sharpness after being handed this pre-season lesson by ‘a better, higher level side’.
The run in to the new campaign doesn’t get any easier from here on in either, with the Rebels set to host Weymouth on Saturday, Aldershot Town on Tuesday before travelling to last season’s National League South champions, Wealdstone, the following Saturday.
Competitive action is due to kick-off with an FA Cup second qualifying round tie on October 3, but Baker admits there’s still an element of uncertainty as to whether the season will kick-off as scheduled with the return of fans to National League ground having not yet been given the green light by Government.
“It wasn’t great on Tuesday night,” Baker admitted. “But it was one of those nights when everything clicked for them (Boreham Wood). They were ruthless, but they’re a better side than us, they’re at a higher level than us, they’re full time and it was a really tough game.
“Ridiculously, at times we were happy. There were some good spells in the game, but maybe on three or four of their goals we could have done a bit better. But, we’re still almost three weeks from the league season starting and this is only our second week back into full pre-season.
“They’ve been back longer than us and they’re further down the line. One of those nights is never nice but it counts for absolutely nothing. Just as it would have done if we’d won 7-0.”
Slough were without a few key names for Tuesday’s friendly, with Lee Togwell not present after welcoming the birth of his second child and Warren Harris missing the game through illness. However, while the side that took to the field at Arbour Park was still relatively strong, they were some way behind their opponents in terms of conditioning, and sharpness. Baker hopes that will come in what he admits is a tough-looking run pre-season programme. He also doesn’t want the players to beat themselves up over Tuesday’s result, adding it needn’t serve as a ‘wake-up call’ ahead of the new season but rather notice that they have to work harder to ensure they’re fully fit when the campaign gets underway.
“Everything about this season isn’t normal,” he said. “It’s unchartered territory and no one really knows if they’re doing the right thing or not. Hungerford have come back and played 12 pre-season friendlies already. Normally you’d say that’s madness, that they’re going to be tired in the second month of the season, but maybe it’s the right thing to do this season. Only time will tell. Nobody has been in a position like this before where you’re effectively coming back after six months off. Players are going to make mistakes. Some of our lads must work on their fitness and the sharpness needs to improve as well. Boreham Wood were sharp on Tuesday, they were sharp all over the pitch whereas we were sharp in certain areas but not in others. I wouldn’t say it’s a wake-up call. Every game you go into there’s a possibility you can get beat like that. I don’t worry about it too much. We’ve set up a hard pre-season.
“We’ve got these four tough games and we might lose them all. But we’re not going to be playing against these teams week in and week out this season. The whole thing about pre-season is highlighting where things aren’t particularly great.”
Clubs in the National League are still waiting for clarity from the league and Government as to how they can proceed with bringing fans back into grounds. Baker said clubs need at least a few weeks’ notice of what’s going to happen to put plans in place for ticketing and match-day protocols for supporters.
He said: “I think they’re announcing lockdowns in the north east now so it could be a real problem. It all hinges on the Government’s decision because we’re not going to start without fans in the grounds. We can’t, there would be clubs going to the wall like Macclesfield if the National League make us play behind closed doors. It’s not going to happen.
“But the National League needs to be helping the clubs out here. They can’t expect the Government to turn around and give it the ok three or four days before the season and for us to be fine with that. We need some notice.
“The rising infections doesn’t bode well for football, but I’m hoping we’ll get some positive news. You’ve got to work on the basis that we’ll start on October 3 and 6.
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