TORQUAY UNITED VIEWPOINT
They say a change is as good as a rest, but Torquay United must hope that the same is true the other way around.
The Gulls’ first-round FA Cup exit at the hands of Rochdale handed them a two-week mid-season break and we will see whether it has done them any good when promotion-chasing Southend United visit Plainmoor on Saturday.
Shutting down in mid-winter is something that clubs have always done across northern Europe, where they do not have the gulf stream to soften what the Russian Steppes throw at them.
Even the locals as far south as Istanbul, where the snow forced Galatasaray and Juventus to play their Champions League tie over two days this week, must have wondered whether it might be an idea there too.
If you are humming along at the top, you almost certainly do not want to take a break. If you are in United’s position, you surely do. Asked whether the last fortnight has been a plus or a minus, Torquay manager Alan Knill said emphatically: “A plus”.
When he continued: “It gives everyone a breather”, he did not mean physically. Knill’s players have worked just as hard over the past two weeks as they normally would. Probably harder.
“It gives you a chance to reflect and refocus, to revisit what you are trying to do,” he said. “Whatever anybody says about what’s happened, you can’t do anything about it. There is no point looking behind. You have to look forward.”
These are perilous days for United. Everyone hoped, and pre-season encouraged them, that the traumas of last season – Martin Ling’s illness, a descent into relegation trouble and the eventual escape under Knill over the last couple of matches – would be banished.
Instead, United have hardly got going, and their current tally of 15 points from 19 games leaves them in deep trouble.
This weekend they face a Southend side on an impressive run, and Knill squares up to a manager whom he knows very well.
Knill and Phil Brown played in the same Halifax Town side for a couple of seasons in the 1980s, and they have remained on good terms ever since.
Brown said this week that he expects Torquay to turn their season around at some stage – and has been warning his players not to let it happen against them.
For everyone at Plainmoor, that is exactly what needs to happen.
The last two weeks and no place in the FA Cup second round have definitely done nothing for United’s cash-flow, but if they have helped to strengthen their resolve and bolster their confidence, it will be worth a great deal more.