Torquay United manager Alan Knill will urge leading scorer Rene Howe to walk away from any unnecessary off-the-ball situations in his efforts to avoid a costly 15th booking of the season when the Gulls take on Capital One Cup finalists Bradford City at Plainmoor this afternoon (3pm).
Sixteen-goal Howe will earn a three-match ban if he picks up one more yellow card, and there are now only five games to go for Torquay to beat off the threat of relegation from npower League Two.
The former Peterborough United centre-forward earned caution number 14 when he appeared to clip goalkeeper Lee Nicholls in Torquay’s 1-0 defeat away at third-placed Northampton Town on Friday night.
Knill, who believes Howe is a marked man these days, felt that his striker was harshly done by, saying: “The referee was influenced by a lot of things – the goalkeeper made the most of it and their supporters made the most of it.
“And when you saw the challenge by their forward on Michael Poke after a couple of minutes, with nothing done about that, I thought that Rene was really unlucky about it.
“Don’t get me wrong, for some of his bookings, he hasn’t been unlucky. So I’m saying to Rene – be yourself, go and play and as long as he’s focused on being a centre-forward, you take what comes.
“But if he picks up a booking for something else, that’s not really acceptable.”
After a rocky spell at home, Torquay have cheered Plainmoor supporters with important 2-1 wins over Chesterfield and York City in recent weeks, on both occasions starting fast and scoring early.
Knill insisted: “It’s not something we’ve made a big thing about – every manager in the league is telling his players to be on the front foot and start fast in every game.
“But I think the two away draws at Dagenham and Southend before Chesterfield did a lot to help the players’ belief.
“Even though we lost on Friday, there were a lot of positives to take from the performance, and there’s no reason for our confidence to be affected.”
Knill will have left-back Tom Cruise back from his one-match suspension, but he would not say whether Cruise or Kevin Nicholson, who was recalled at Northampton, will start this afternoon.
Bradford’s giant-killing this season made them the talk of the land as they shocked Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa on their way to the Capital One Cup Final, but Knill believes that their run to Wembley hardly helped their league form.
“You look at their squad, and I think it’s one of the best in the league, and if they hadn’t had their cup exploits I’m sure they would have been higher up the table now,” he said.
“They ended up having to play a lot of games in a short time. But we don’t prepare for Bradford any differently than we prepare for anybody else – we all know the players and what we are up against.
“We are trying to concentrate on what a threat we can be against them.”
Phil Parkinson’s Bantams have potential stand-out players in forwards Nahki Wells (18 goals this season) and powerful target man James Hanson, who headed his 11th of the campaign to earn a 2-2 draw at home to Southend United at the weekend.
Driving them on will be the remarkable Gary Jones, now 35 but still as big an influence as he ever has been in a near 650-game career spent mostly at Rochdale and Barnsley. The referee is Rob Lewis, from Shropshire.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice,
C Thompson; Oastler, Saah, MacDonald, Nicholson, Jarvis, Labadie, Mansell, Chapell, Benyon, Howe, Cruise, Downes, Leadbitter, Macklin, Bodin, Craig, Yeoman, Lathrope, Morris, N Thompson.
Unavailable: Stevens (groin), Easton (calf).