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Saunders Pre-Season Prep Talk
Before a ball was kicked, pre-season 2020 was destined to be an unusual one.
With no supporters allowed to watch games, new safety measures in place and a league start date yet to be confirmed, it’s certainly presented its challenges and opportunities for Manager Jay Saunders and his emerging 2020/21 squad.
During a scorching August heatwave, The Gate’s pre-season preparations turned up a notch on Tuesday evening, with the first pre-season friendly of many against Cray Valley.
It was the first occasion Saunders was able to cast an eye over his returning players, new signings and trialists but both he and Assistant Jamie Coyle have been hard at work with the squad for a couple of weeks now.
“We’ve been back in training and it’s been a bit strange as we’ve had to adapt to the numbers we’re allowed and other things we’ve got to do to keep safe, so it’s been unusual. We’ve got a lot of trialists in but as most people know already we’ve got eight or nine signed so far, so we are still working on building the squad, putting things in place.”
Saunders added, “It’s also been a strange pre-season especially playing behind closed doors which has meant many teams of a higher level have arranged fixtures closer to them to minimalise travelling. It’s probably been one of the toughest pre-seasons to deal with and I’m sure that feeling is true for a number of people.”
As the Margate squad come together for their first few sessions and games, a number of introductions are being made including Saunders’ staff.
“I knew Jamie (Coyle) would come in and bring something new to us and the boys have taken to him really well. We also have Dan Logue who has joined to take on a lot of the fitness stuff, look after our warm-ups and so on and he will be a great addition.”
“It’s been a good start and I know the club has mentioned we might be training at Hartsdown Park, that’s something we’re looking at as we’ve been training at a more London based facility. We’ve had some of the youth team boys join in with us, we did some 11 v 11 stuff with them on Saturday alongside Paul’s Under 23s which was good for us and some of the new boys to visit the ground for the first time.”
It’s been a challenging pre-season to plan with the figurative goalposts continually shifting and a degree of uncertainly around when the season will in fact begin, these factors have played their part but Saunders hopes a more settled picture will emerge as the month goes on.
“I’d say fitness-wise, we’re probably behind some of the other teams where they have started earlier than us. I’m very sceptical as you could end up having a three-month pre-season the way things are going! We’re on course and I’m hoping by the weekend we will have another couple of recruits on board. “
“Out of the boys who have signed for us, we only had five play for us mid-week against Cray. I didn’t rush to announce our squad that day because we’ve got mainly trialists and I’d rather keep things under our hat until we have things to announce, as frustrating as I know that is for supporters but that was what I thought was right to do.”
Looking back on the match against Cray, Saunders found the 90 minutes productive.
“It was a good run out for us, I think it was Cray’s third or fourth game, so the first thing I said to the boys was I expected them to be sharper and a bit more match-fit than us and that proved to be the case. We had a lot of lads who had only met each other for the first time that day or gone straight from training into a match set-up. Noel Leighton turned his ankle in the warm-up so was unable to feature, so it was a mixed bunch so realistically it was a chance for me to look at those new boys.”
“That said, players like Ben Swift got minutes and others who hadn’t played since the whole Covid situation. So, it was an opportunity for those players to get 45 minutes under their belt and for me to look at a lot of trialists and two youth lads involved. I know people look at scores but Tuesday was really just about getting back on a football pitch and into match tempo.”
Saunders added, “As you go on in pre-season you want to win games of football, Tuesday was our first run out with a lot of trialists and I don’t want to publicly share who’s trailing with us and players get swooped in on! We’ve agreed a deal with one lad which we can hopefully announce at the end of this week, we’re just waiting for some international clearance before we can and we are on the verge of getting someone else over the line too. Once we’ve got a bit more of a settled squad, by all means, we will start naming the team but I felt Tuesday when we were looking at 15 plus trialists, that is all that was about.”
This Saturday Margate host Hythe Town at Hartsdown Park. Saunders will welcome lots of familiar faces including former Gate Manager Steve Watt who manages the visiting side. It’s a game the current boss is looking forward to, although the absence of fans at HDP will be sorely felt.
“I think most of the Hythe squad have played for me over the years, so it will be good to have them down. They’ve got good players and I expect them to be right up there challenging this year and it will be a good test for us.”
“We will have a real mixture again, the other night I think we had one player who played 90 minutes and for the rest it was about 45. Saturday, some of the boys will get a little bit extra and we’re now pretty much Saturday/Tuesday games all the way through so we’ve got plenty of time to make sure the players get minutes under their belts. “
“For this Saturday and next Tuesday, I’m still planning on looking at trialists and then after that I expect it to settle a little more. We will get those signings and announcements made and hopefully not too long after, we’ll be able to get supporters in again.”
Margate join a long list of non-league clubs eagerly awaiting an update for when supporters can be welcome back, Saunders acknowledges the complexities of the current situation but hopes to see fans again soon.
“It is weird and a strange situation playing behind closed doors and all I hope is that sooner or later we get supporters back watching football. I’ve seen a number of campaigns to get fans back in and I can’t see how clubs at this sort of level can run without crowds coming through the turnstile.”
“I think for supporters - and everyone really - being able to go out and about, socialise and see other people at football will be a massive thing. Hopefully, the right decision will be made but on the same hand, safety is key. At the higher levels, there is testing and a whole load more, whereas at our level, I feel it’s kind of a case of ‘go back in and get on with it’ which is difficult. It’s just really not the same without our supporters.”
Thursday, 13 August 2020
By Charlotte Richardson