06:00PM, Thursday 02 December 2021
Photo: Elise O'Brien
After spending 10 days in isolation, following three or four cases of COVID in the Maidenhead United camp, the Magpies squad will return to competitive action at Barnet on Saturday before playing their rearranged fixture at Southend United on Tuesday.
The Magpies haven’t played a league match since their 4-0 defeat at Boreham Wood on Saturday, November 20, and, following a flurry of postponements, they’ve slipped to 20th in the table, level on points with third from bottom Southend.
The club had little choice but to follow the National League protocol and postpone their matches at Southend last week and home to Chesterfield on Saturday, while Tuesday’s Berks & Bucks Senior Cup tie at Ascot United was also called off.
The cup tie with the Yellamen has been rescheduled for Tuesday, December 21, while Chesterfield will now visit York Road on Tuesday, December 18.
While some may feel a mental and physical refresh could be good for the players - after a series of heavy defeats - manager Alan Devonshire says there’s no silver lining to the situation.
They’ve also had just a couple of training sessions to assess and determine players’ fitness levels heading into Saturday’s game at The Hive.
“It’s not something we wanted,” he said. “It’s just something that’s come up. We’ve had three or four boys go down with it, and it’s difficult because you don’t know how they’re going to be when they return. It's far from ideal. That’s the thing with COVID, you don’t know how it will affect their breathing or their lungs, so it’s not something you want to happen.
“It’s pushed us a couple of games behind everyone else and suddenly we have just a couple of training sessions going into important games on Saturday and Tuesday. It is what it is, but it hasn’t come at a good time.”
Devonshire and the coaching team were able to put the players through their paces for the first time in 10 days yesterday (Wednesday) and they’ll take another look at them today (Thursday) before deciding who’s in best shape for the game at Barnet.
The Bees have been difficult to beat in recent weeks, picking up vital wins over Torquay United and Woking while the Magpies were in isolation, and The Hive hasn’t exactly been a happy hunting ground for the Magpies in recent seasons.
“The boys have had to isolate for 10 days, and we don’t know how they’ll be when they come back,” said Devonshire.
“We’ve just had the one training session so far. They seem to be ok, but it’s hard to tell as it’s the first one back.
“We’ll just have to see how they react. I haven’t got a clue who may side for Saturday is going to be because I won’t know until Thursday how they really are.
“We’ve got a lot of young players, and they’re good players, but it’s about finding the right mix and looking after them. We had six boys under the age of 22 in the win over Wrexham, which is unheard of in this league, but that’s how we’ll have to go sometimes. But we’ve also got to look after them and know when to play them and when not to. Seeing if they’re confident or not confident, it’s a balancing act.”
Devonshire accepts the club’s last few results haven’t been good enough, but he’s been stung by the level of criticism he and his players have received in the media. But, as we’ve seen already this season, a couple of positive results can disperse the doom and gloom and, while the Magpies’ preparations for Barnet and Southend have been far from perfect, Devonshire is keen for them to give a good account of themselves.
“I am a little disappointed by all the negativity,” he said. “Yes, we’ve lost a couple of games but before that we won two good games on the bounce.
“It’s all negativity, we let this in, we let that in. We know that. It’s something we’re looking at trying to correct but 10 days without training doesn’t help. But that’s just the way it is, and we’ve just got to get on with it.
“We’ve had injuries and a couple of our main players have also been out, and they’ll be out for a little while longer. We’re not happy about that but we’ve just got to work hard and get back to being difficult to beat. It’s not been good enough these past few games and we’ve got to step up.”
He added: “Dean Brennan has done well since he’s gone to Barnet. They’re hard to beat and have some good players. It also isn’t a place where we’ve had good results recently but it’s about time we turned things around there. Southend are another ex-league club with a big budget and they’re in a false position, so that’s going to be another tough game.
“But we’re not getting carried away, we’re only 15 games into the season and have still got 27 to go. If we were in this position with 10 games to go and we had to win seven or eight, I’d be more worried.”