United go into tomorrow’s top v bottom clash at Plainmoor buoyed by Tuesday night’s 2-1 win away to East Thurrock.
Having been boosted by the club’s decision to let the team stay overnight in Essex, manager Gary Johnson hopes it will help aid the team’s recovery during a period of four matches in eleven days.
“It was the right thing to do, that’s for sure,” said Johnson.
“It was a long old trip, and if we had to have come back that evening, like our supporters would realise, it would have been the early hours of the morning so Wednesday is mucked up a bit and then you’re tired for Thursday. We wanted to make sure they had a good night’s sleep and had some food inside them. We then went to the David Lloyd Centre, went for a recovery session in the pool which our physio Dan [Feasey] started, but there was actually a ladies aerobics pool class which suddenly they all seemed to drift into that class. Actually it was very good for what we needed, so we binned that one and let them carry on, and everyone seemed to enjoy that. Then obviously we got home at a normal time and hopefully that recovery will give us the best chance of being ready for Saturday.”
Despite their lowly league position, East Thurrock provided a stern test for Torquay, and Johnson expects more of the same from a Weston-super-Mare side that held United to a 2-2 draw back in October.
“They [Weston] have done that to a few teams, they don’t get well beat every week, neither of them [Weston or East Thurrock], and sometimes their game will come out, the game they want to play and sometimes it doesn’t. At Weston we had a good chance to win the game right at the end, unfortunately a penalty was given away and then a corner but they are hanging on in there, they haven’t given up and nor have East Thurrock of course. Both of them will be this wounded animal that I always say that needs to get a result. Every team is dangerous at this level because it’s the level we’re at, as I’ve said before. We’ve got to prove we’re above this level by winning and concentrating on our next few games, to make sure we’re beating the teams below us that wins us the league, because everyone is below us at the moment.”
Jamie Sendles-White was an early casualty during the midweek win, however a return from suspension for fellow centre-back Kyle Cameron provides his side with a timely boost.
“I thought it was Jamie’s hamstring, but it was actually his Achilles’ heel. He still thinks he’s got a chance, but the physio is not sure, so we’ll wait and see because it’ll have to be a miraculous recovery. Kyle has been captain when Asa [Hall] has been out, he brings that experience, he’s a leader and he’s left-footed which gives you that balance. The back two haven’t done bad, we haven’t done bad in the last two or three games with Jean and Jamie and really it’s two from three all the time. Jean was left out for a little while and when somebody gets injured it’s hard to get back in, then you have to wait for somebody else to get injured and that’s what I’m trying to do, but it’s still a good person to be bringing in as competition to the other two.”
Injured winger Opi Edwards is unlikely to figure until the last month of the season, however apart from a few knocks picked up at East Thurrock, the rest of the squad is raring to go.
“Opi’s no closer at the moment. If it’s the last three or four games of the season, and we need him and obviously we want him involved, if he’s ready, we’ll have him back with us. Otherwise a few little knocks as you’d expect with Saturday-Tuesday-Saturdays, they’re all looking forward to the game, they’re looking bright, and ready to get going”
Although some of United’s promotion rivals have been eager to give their opinion on the title race, Johnson would rather let the results speak for themselves, with a number of clubs still in contention.
“Let them say what they like, what they think, everybody’s got an ulterior motive for saying things, me included, so I think the least you say the better at this stage, you have to let your team do the talking. Us and Woking have got to play the likes of Chelmsford, Concord, Bath and Welling, and they all feel they’ve got a chance, so whilst they’ve got a chance, we have got to be wary of them. We’ve got eleven games now, at the moment we’d have to lose two or three, and the others would have to gain two or three wins to compete against the top two, so each time the top two get a result, then obviously it’s a bigger gap and becomes less possible to catch us even though they can catch us points-wise.”
The March fixture list sees the Gulls come up against a number of sides with promotion ambitions, but as always, the gaffer is only looking at the next game.
“That’s a long way off, we need to concentrate on the Weston game, that’s for sure, and worry about the next game after that. We’ve been pretty consistent over the last two or three games with our results, you can’t be consistent in this league, play the same every week, because all the pitches are different. Our pitch is different from week to week when we play on it. One week it’s boggy and muddy, and then all of a sudden it’s hard, and then it’s fine, and the same as all the other pitches, so you have to try and adjust. We didn’t adjust at East Thurrock in the first half, and East Thurrock did, and we had to come out with a different attitude to go and win that game playing a slightly different game. I know people felt we were lumping it a little bit, but Man Utd or Man City wouldn’t have been able to play their football on that pitch on the day.”
With 14 wins from their last 16 games, Johnson is delighted with his team’s progress, however he is challenging his men to maintain that form until the of the season.
“You create your own stats in as much as if it’s 14 wins out of 16, people are going to expect more and we’ve got to produce more and live up to that expectation as opposed to bringing that expectation down. I think that’s really important, because people enjoy the expectation when a team has won 14 out of 16. I’m not sure there’s many teams in any league that have put in that sort of stats and so even though the lads wouldn’t have thought I was pleased for them at half-time at East Thurrock, I am very pleased with generally our consistency and of course where we’ve come from, from the Hungerford game. So that’s what we’ve done, we’ve had a good run and we need to keep it going just a little while longer.”