Slough boss admits Hawks could be at a disadvantage when they host National League South play-off semi-final

One of Slough Town’s joint managers believes Hawks will be at a disadvantage when they host the National League South play-off semi-final.

Sunday, 12th July 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Sunday, 12th July 2020, 4:35 pm
Andy Drury fires in a shot during Hawks' 1-0 home win over Slough in February. The two teams could meet again at Westleigh Park on July 25 - and if they do, the Rebels will have the advantage of having already played a competitive game. Photo by Dave Haines/Portsmouth News

Paul Doswell’s men welcome either Slough or Dartford to Westleigh Park on Saturday, July 25, with the winners standing just 90 minutes away from promotion to the top tier of English non-league football.

Slough host Dartford behind closed-doors at Arbour Park next Sunday - meaning both teams will have had a competitive game under their belts by the time one of them arrives in south Hampshire.

And that could be crucial in a play-offs which promise to be even more of a lottery than usual.

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Form will certainly fly out of the window - with no team having played a league game since March 14, no-one is in any form.

Slough only won two of their last eight league games prior to lockdown, while Dartford were top of the form table at the time.

The Rebels also completed the double over Dartford.

‘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 joint-boss Jon 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.’

Hawks have been installed as 7-4 favourites to reclaim their National League place at the first attempt. But that is no doubt due to the fact they finished runners-up to Wealdstone.

‘We’ve got as much chance as anyone else in this,’ said Underwood, who along with Neil Baker has been in charge at Slough since the summer of 2013.

‘I know Weymouth and Havant have the advantage of having one less game to play, but you could argue that playing one extra game gives you a slight advantage in these play-offs.

‘Normally you’re going into the play-offs off the back of a really tough season, you’re shattered, and you’re having to play on a Wednesday night before going somewhere on the Saturday to play a team that’s had a week’s rest.

‘That’s normally a big advantage and we don’t have to do that this time which is a positive.

“But first of all we just have to think about getting past Dartford.

“Dartford were in brilliant form, but we beat them twice this season, once with Steve King as manager and once without.

“I always look back to previous play-off campaigns and in the one before we got promoted, we lost to Leamington, having beaten them 6-0 and 2-0 during the season.

‘So I don’t put any emphasis on the fact that we’ve beaten Dartford this season. That’s completely gone, as is form.

‘Both teams will obviously want it on the day but it’s about the side who falls into the game quicker.

‘For the winners it might help playing a quarter final tie. But, if we win, we’d have to go to Havant and that’s an extremely tough game.

‘We’ve not scored there this season and were 2-0 down in the abandoned game and then lost 1-0 there and we didn’t create loads of chances either.’

Underwood and Baker are attempting to guide Slough to a third promotion in seven season - and all via the play-offs.

In their first season, 2013/14, the Rebels won promotion from the Southern League Central division, and in 2017/18 they went up from the Southern League - having lost in the play-offs the season before.

In all, this is the pair’s sixth play-off campaign in eight seasons, having twice reached a similar stage with Godalming in their last two seasons at the club.

In the first of those two seasons, 2011/12, they lost to Bognor Regis on penalties in the Isthmian Division 1 South play-offs.

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Hawks have recorded a second round of negative covid-19 tests.

As a result, the squad were due to start full contact training this week.

They will train on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday – one extra session compared to last week.

All South division clubs taking part in the play-offs have returned full rounds of negative tests so far.

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Former Hawks striker Jason Prior was among the scorers as Dorking won 3-1 at higher tier Notts County in a friendly at the weekend.

Dorking are due to travel to Bath City for their South play-off quarter final next Sunday. The winners travel to Weymouth in the last four.