Manager Jerry Gill spoke of the ‘massive relief’ that his Bath City side have finally had the green light to take part in the National League play-offs, writes Gareth Davies.
Last week, it appeared that the play-offs in National League South and North wouldn’t take place but after pressure from clubs, they will now go ahead after all.
For Gill and Bath, after the final league positions were decided using an unweighted points-per-game system, they finished the season in fourth and will host Dorking at Twerton Park at a date yet to be decided.
The National League’s handling of this whole situation has been heavily criticised by some, but for Gill, when speaking exclusively to The Indy this week, he refused to point fingers at the top brass.
“I don’t put all of the blame onto the National League, because the FA and Government have been involved but the frustrating thing for the clubs was the lack of communication,” he said.
“What people don’t see is that this whole situation has been tough for us managers. All the play-off teams have been going through it and we can’t relay anything to our players – we know as much as they know.
“So however much you’re trying to keep their programmes going, and we’ve done some Zoom calls and satellite training, it’s difficult because there is no end goal for them.
“Overall, it’s a massive relief (that play-offs are going ahead) but the next step will be deciding a realistic date for the game and that will mean that the plans we’ve got ready and waiting can be put into place.”
Gill also felt that any play-off games that take place will be much different than the norm which is seen at step two of the non-league pyramid.
He added: “Being realistic, I think the games are going to look different. Games will be tactical and despite the tempo being there because it’s competitive, I don’t see it lasting for 90 minutes. It will be very difficult to get up to speed and we will have a two to three week period of training before we play.
“You have to bear in mind that we are part-time, we aren’t full-time. There are some clubs in the league that are (full-time), but Bath City aren’t. We will have to put on some sessions in the evening for the boys, but a lot of my players work.
“Going into it, we will do as much as we can and I’m really fortunate that I’ve got a good backroom staff behind me. I’ve got an excellent sports scientist who has been in contact with the players.
“I’ve also got a really good group of players which comes down to signing the right people. We trust them to look after themselves, but we can’t replicate a game.
“We will be looking to do an in-house friendly because you do need that competitive game, or as close as you can get to it, before the play-offs.”
With the Premier League now being able to use five substitutes from nine named, this is something Gill would like to see in the National League play-off games. If not the Bath boss fears long-term lay-offs for his players.
“We’re hoping that the National League will allow us to name five subs too, because you don’t want to be picking up long-term injuries,” he remarked. “It’s a fear because we’ve been off for so long. You only had to watch the Premier League game at Manchester City the other night, Arsenal players were falling like flies.
“This is full-time professionals with some of the best sports science in the world – it looked like the ankle turn (suffered by Granit Xhaka) was purely because of not playing contact sport for a long time.”
Looking forward to the Dorking match, Gill finished by speaking positively about his side. Touching on the fact he can call on loan players who have been training back at their parent clubs, the 49-year-old feels this will be a big advantage for the Romans.
“We’d like to think we had some good momentum, but in any season you are going to have peaks and troughs.
“In terms of injuries, Joe Raynes suffered a horrible leg break against Weymouth and Jack Batten did his ACL against Forest Green last pre-season so they’re both gone.
“Some of our loan players will hopefully be a bit fitter than the rest because they have been back at their parent clubs training for a few weeks now.
“That is the interesting thing if you have a club that use purely contracted players and not EFL loans. I use loans because of our budget and because they are good enough and the right characters. They have been back in for a while now and are back up to speed.
“The difficulty will be amalgamating them back together and making sure you have that cohesion as a team.
“Training will just be about reminding the players of the Bath City way in terms of what we do with and without the ball in transitions.
“The only time we know where we truly are is when we kick-off in our first match.”