Mark Bartley: 'The new season will be a voyage of discovery for Marlow FC'

With several players forced into isolation after contracting COVID or being ‘pinged’ into isolation by the NHS app, it’s been a disrupted and frustrating pre-season for Marlow and their friendly results have reflected that.

As such it’s set to be a ‘voyage of discovery’ for manager Mark Bartley and his team, with the manager admitting he’ll be selecting his side for Saturday’s first game at home to South Park FC based on their health and fitness rather than any form.

The squad has been beset by injury niggles and COVID illness over the past few weeks. After impressing in their 4-0 win over Hartley Wintney, they’ve since lost to Stoneham and Whitstable, while Haringey Borough thumped them 3-0 in Saturday’s friendly, in a performance that Bartley felt was better than the scoreline suggested.

They now kick off what promises to be one of the most competitive Isthmian League South Central Division seasons in recent times, with several team – like Marlow – hoping to be among the frontrunners for promotion.

“I think we’ve lost one or two players either to isolation or getting pinged for the last few weeks,” he said. “We’ve had these problems when you select your squad on Thursday but then lose players before the Saturday. Simon Grant, Marcus Mealing, Nnamdi Nwachuku, Adam Richards and Anton Rogers. These are guys you’d want to be playing and now we’re trying to give them some more minutes just to get them back up to speed.

“After we beat Hartley Wintney, which was one of our best pre-season performances, we lost both centre forwards within 72 hours and you’re immediately up against it.

“Squads will have to be a little bit deeper and there will be a little bit of a voyage of discovery for some of us to see how we can cope.”

Managing players return from injury or illness has also been an issue for Marlow, with some making swift progress after contracting COVID and others taking longer to find their feet again.

“If we don’t have any more knocks, we should be ok for Saturday,” he said. “It’s taken players a different amount of time to recover from COVID. One of our players was straight back to normal, but others struggled and weren’t getting in as much oxygen as they normally would.

“We’re just managing the situation and making sure they don’t regress. One was wiped out, while others have had milder symptoms. It’s difficult to figure it out but I won’t be the only manager facing this.

“It’s an interesting challenge and for Saturday I’ll be picking a side based on who I think is in the best health rather than who I think our strongest team is.”

Despite this Bartley feels the Blues have done some good business this summer and are in a ‘good space’ heading into their curtain raiser at Oak Tree Road.

“We’ve added where we needed to,” he said. “We’ve added goals and have been relatively tight.

“My teams don’t tend to shift a lot of goals and we’ve been relatively tight there. We’re still trying to do a little bit of business in the last couple of days.

“South Park have had plenty of turnover in the summer, so we don’t really know what to expect from them. But we back ourselves at home and don’t fear anyone in this league.

“Teams may look at our pre-season results and underestimate us, but we’re in much better shape that results have shown.”

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