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Underwood: Teams which adapt better to 'strange situation' will be successful in play-offs

The Slough Town players and management team will come in for COVID-19 tests this week ahead of their first scheduled training session on Saturday, July 4.

The club plans to hold six group training sessions, Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday for two weeks heading into their play-off quarter-final with Dartford at Arbour Park on either Saturday, July 18 or Sunday, July 19. The date is yet to be fixed and could be moved if BT Sport wish to screen the contest.

The Rebels are putting the processes in place to stage the match behind closed doors at Arbour Park, quite an undertaking according to joint boss Jon Underwood who admitted club staff were working ‘non-stop’ to ensure it can go ahead safely.

If successful the Rebels would move on to the semi-finals, away to Havant & Waterlooville the following weekend, before potentially playing the final for a place in the National League on August 1.

“It gives us something to focus on,” said Underwood. “Everyone has had a tough lockdown and one of the things has been not knowing when you’re going to come out of the other side. But this has given us a real focus both on and off the pitch.

“From a football point of view it’s unusual that we have such a period of time to focus on just one game. Usually we’re jumping from one game to the next. But there’s no point on us focusing on anything beyond Dartford. Our aim is to focus on getting through that one and then we’ll focus on what might come afterwards. It gives us good time to prepare on the football front.

“We’re in for testing next week and we’ll need time to see the results of those tests before we get the players together. We’re testing from the middle of next week with a view to our first training session being next Saturday (July 4). The players won’t come back from a standing start, they’ll be in good shape. You’d want longer but everyone’s in the same or similar boat in terms of timings.”

Underwood said he’d been watching the Premier League’s restart with great interest over the past couple of weeks, and he has concerns over the potential for injury after such little group training. However, he hopes they’ll be able to use five substitutes and have mid-half water breaks, as we’ve seen in Premier League matches, to lessen the players’ fatigue.

The Rebels’ boss also thinks the side which adapts best to this strange new set up will improve their chances of promotion. He accepts their chances would be greatly improved if, like Havant and Weymouth, they only had two potential matches rather than three, but – in a strange way – there may also be some benefit to having had the experience of playing a match behind closed doors if they do beat Dartford and go through.

Dartford were one of the form sides in the division when the league was suspended in March, while the Rebels were stuttering and in a poor run of form. But having gone almost four months without a competitive fixture, Underwood believes form from last season will count for nothing in the lottery of these play-offs.

“It’s up to us to assess the players when they come in and our team will be based on what we think we need to win the game, but also on which players are looking fit and sharp and ready,” said Underwood. “It is going to be strange but the teams which adapt best will be successful. If you can get through that first game I think there’s a benefit, because you’ll be up against a team in the semi-final who hasn’t had that experience yet.

“You’d obviously rather play two games than three, because your chances are increased if you’re only playing two, but I do think having played a game already would stand you in good stead. The play-offs are always a lottery, but given the circumstances this year they are even more of a lottery because any form from last season goes out of the window. It’s wide open and we’ve got to hope that we can adapt and get it right. We had a stale period in March but I’d have still backed us to finish the season strongly and I back us to put up a good showing in the play-offs.”

The Slough Town players and management team will come in for COVID-19 tests next week ahead of their first scheduled training session on Saturday, July 4. The club plans to hold six group training sessions, Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday for two weeks heading into their play-off quarter-final with Dartford at Arbour Park on either Saturday, July 18 or Sunday, July 19. The date is yet to be fixed and could be moved if BT Sport wish to screen the contest.

The Rebels are putting the processes in place to stage the match behind closed doors at Arbour Park, quite an undertaking, according to joint boss Jon Underwood who admitted club staff were working ‘non-stop’ to ensure it can go ahead safely. If successful, the Rebels would move on to the semi-finals, away to Havant & Waterlooville the following weekend, before potentially playing the final for a place in the National League on August 1.

“We’re testing from the middle of next week with a view to our first training session being next Saturday (July 4),” said Underwood. “The players won’t come back from a standing start, they’ll be in good shape. You’d want longer but everyone’s in the same or similar boat.”

The Rebels’ boss thinks the side which adapts best to this strange new set-up will improve their chances of promotion. He accepts their chances would be greatly improved if, like Havant and Weymouth, they only had two potential matches rather than three, but – in a strange way – there may also be some benefit to having had the experience of playing a match behind closed doors if they do beat Dartford and go through. Dartford were one of the form sides in the division when the league was suspend-ed in March, while the Rebels were stuttering and in a poor run of form.

But, having gone almost four months without a competitive fixture, Underwood believes prior form will count for little in the lottery of these play-offs.

He said: “It is going to be strange but the teams which adapt best will be successful. If you can get through that first game I think there’s a benefit, because you’ll be up against a team in the semi-final who hasn’t had that experience yet.

“You’d obviously rather play two games than three, because your chances are increased if you’re only playing two, but I do think having played a game already would stand you in good stead. The play-offs are always a lottery but, given the circumstances this year, they are even more of a lottery because any form from last season goes out of the window.

“It’s wide open and we’ve got to hope that we can adapt and get it right.”

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