A fortnight on from their last fixture, United return to National League action tomorrow, as they make the long trip to North Wales to take on Wrexham.
With the three points on offer hugely important for both side’s ambitions going into the final two months of the season, manager Gary Johnson was quick to acknowledge the match as a real ‘six-pointer’.
“This is a proverbial six-pointer with Wrexham,” said Johnson.
“If they win they will be equal with us, but if we win we’ll be six points clear. It’s an important game, and they’ll see that as well because they need to get themselves out of trouble. Our next win in going to be vital and the earlier that comes, the better. We’ve had the opportunity to get the lads fired up and ready to go. I’m aware of being joint-14th but I think our group is playing well enough, and doing well enough for us to be looking upwards. At this moment in time our boys are ready to look up rather than looking down.
“The goals are still to keep winning as many games as we can of course. That’s always our goal going into every game, we always try and win but it doesn’t always happen. Of course, if you start getting a couple of wins then you get that chance of getting a run, and if you get a run then who knows where you’re going to end up?
“There’s still plenty of points to play for and there’s a lot of teams who are ahead of us at the moment, but if we can keep pulling a few in then we may be lucky enough to sneak into the play-offs – We’re still looking at that end to be honest with you. Our form has been not bad, we did okay at Barrow, and previous to that we’d only lost one in five. We need a game, we want a game, so we’re looking forward to the game on Saturday.
Despite the break in matches, United’s manager has utilised the gap in the fixture list by putting his side through their paces, and was delighted with the response from the players.
“The boys have been working hard this week. We’ve had the period without a game, so we could get a bit of ‘pre-season’ work into them, and also give the few niggly injuries that we’ve had have had more time to recover. We’ve been doing a lot more running and a lot more energy work. We’ve been in the gym, we’ve been sprinting and we’ve been doing the long runs. The boys have worked really hard. At the start of it they had a common group empathy, because they had a common hate – me and Downsey – but as the week went on, they realised why they were doing it.
“It was physical fitness, but it was also mental fitness. I am massive on that because we’ve got to make sure they believe they’re ready to go to war and play in these important games. We took them on occasions beyond what they thought were their limits, and we might get a few letters from their mums for bullying, but I think in the end now they realise why we did it and it’s all panned out nicely and I think they are all ready for a competitive game!”
One welcome boost to the pre-match preparations has been teh addition of striker Ade Azeez on loan from Newport, some seven years after the former Charlton starlet enjoyed his first breakthrough temporary spell at Plainmoor.
“We are pleased he has come to us, we felt we needed his type. He’s an experienced lad and he’s a good lad as well. He’ll be one of our captains in the group.
“We’re pleased to have got him in. He’s trained with us now for three or four days, so we know all about him and he knows all about us. Downsey has played with him before, so he came recommended by him as well. It’s a good signing for us, with a bit of pace up front, and he’s a different type of player to Jared and Reidy.”
One player departing this week was Gary Warren, following his recall by Exeter City. Although disappointed to see the experienced defender return to the League Two club, United’s boss revealed the plans are already in place to provide cover in The Gulls’ backline, especially with a number of players still recovering from injuries.
“He was great for us,” remarked the Gaffer.
“I was disappointed that he went back, but I understood. It’s their prerogative, he’s their player. We are missing a centre-half, so we’ve got to make sure the centre-halves that we’ve got are fit. We’ve got one or two players in mind to cover that spot and make sure we have enough numbers by the March deadline. That’s going to be important that we’ve got the squad to see out the last ten or so games of the season.
“We’ve got a couple of little niggles that we’ve got to get over. Some of the boys that have been out for a long time, like Ben Wynter, are not far away. Robbie Cundy is not far away but whether that is Saturday, or not, is 50/50. Liam Davis is still going to be a little while, and Matty Buse is probably longer-term. Frank [Vincent] is not ready yet, and he will let us know as soon as he is, so we can’t have him in our thoughts for the next few weeks.”
For now Gary remains fully focused on the next match in question, whilst drawing attention to the importance of game management, and emphasising the need to adapt to different situations within individual games.
“The National League is a very tactical league. All teams play all different ways and you have to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Every team is different, and sometimes we have to play different if we’re at home than if we’re away. It’s easy to say ‘why don’t we play our own system?’ but that’s not the league we’re in. You can do that maybe if you’re Liverpool but even they let other teams have the possession on occasions.
“You just have to gauge it, and that’s why you have to game manage. You teach the lads all different shapes, ideas and thoughts because sometimes they have to change their thoughts, change their the way of playing within a game, because that’s what’s needed.
“Sometimes you can go somewhere and they’ve changed their shape. Most teams in our league switch from 5-3-2, to a 4-4-2, to a 4-3-3 – whatever it is – so you’ve just got to be aware of who their dangers are and who you can get at, and that might affect you sometimes and who you play. We’re looking at everything and you have to review everything. We’ve got a young group so we’re teaching them the game as well. The longer we keep the young group, as they get older, they’ll get a bit wiser.
“Both teams will want to win the game on Saturday. A draw is not really any good for us, and it’s not really any good for them. It should certainly be a game where both teams are looking to score more than the opposition, I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s not obvious. We’ll go there tactically to win the game.”
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Vanarama National League | Wrexham Vs Torquay United | 15/02/20 3pm KO | My Racecourse, Mold Road, LL11 2AH
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