Ninety miles separates the Bradley Football Development Centre in Grimsby and the Mitton Group Stadium in Wrose-the venues for the semi-finals of the Toolstation NCEL Division One Play-Offs tomorrow evening. It’s taken since August for the four contenders to get to these crucial match-ups-and all four clubs know that tomorrow’s games will mean the difference between one more –albeit crucial- game in their 2017/8 season and a summer of what might have beens.The Bootiful Game will be all over both games tomorrow night, but for now let’s start by considering the views from all sides of the argument, writes Colin Muncie.
A third-placed finish in Division One assured Grimsby Borough of home advantage tomorrow night, when they welcome sixth-placed Glasshoughton Welfare to Bradley Road –and their Management team are upbeat and wary in equal measure. Joint Manager Nathan Collins told us “We are all looking forward to the game and after a really good performance in the Cup Final last week I’m sure all the players believe they can get the job done this week. Glasshoughton have had a very good season; we have had two tough games against them and I’m sure Wednesday’s game will be no different.
Nathan has experienced the bitter emotion of semi-final defeat, but he expects last season’s reverse to act as a motivator this time round. “Losing in the play off final last season was an awful feeling and I fully expect that to drive our lads on and go one better this year”.
Joint Manager Daniel Barrett also referenced that defeat last May. He told us “I am looking forward to Wednesday as I am sure many are. Anything can happen in these one-off games- Penistone last year are a good example; they finished sixth and went on to get promoted. I think the little break will have done us the world of good.
Daniel has every faith in his squad. “I am confident in the lads beating any team in this League -or the League above on their day. It’s down to them now to perform and get over the line”.
Wilderness Boys striker Luke Mascall knows it’ll be a close-run thing tomorrow night “We except a tough game on Wednesday; our results in the League -against any team- throughout the season count for nothing now . It’s two Cup games and it will depend on who wants it more, and who really fancies it “
“ I’m sure our lads our ready and more than capable of doing the business -we just have to make sure we are prepared for a tough game” Luke added “They won’t give us anything; on the plus side some would say we have the advantage of playing at home- so we will see on the day.
“I’m ready and confident in the lads that we can do it for the Club”
In the opposite Technical Area will be Glasshoughton’s Joint Managers Lee Vigars and Darren Holmes, who, by general consent, have done a great job in getting the Castleford side into the Play Off’s- and Lee feels that his players will have benefitted from a period of rest and recovery. Lee told us “We’re all really looking forward to this Wednesday’s Play Off semi final against Grimsby. After playing so many games in just a handful of days throughout the past month it’s been good to have a 9- day break to rest some of the lads up and give time for injuries to heal. We now travel with a fully fit squad, no suspensions and no pressure on us whatsoever, as our hosts are the side expected to progress”.
Lee has kept an eye on tomorrow’s opponents “We’ve been really impressed with Grimsby this year” he admitted. “Both at home -and away- they were fantastic against us so we know just how hard this game will be. On Saturday we had the lads in for a few hours and worked on a few things which we hope will help us this time around but the same things will apply to any game – we need to go there and match their work rate and commitment and you just never know. We have full confidence in our boys and have the quality within the squad to get the right result”
“Let’s just hope we can put on a show for our travelling supporters -and head back to Castleford with another game to play”.
Joint Manager Darren Holmes feels that his players have already demonstrated an appetite for the important games. He told us “It’s going to be a very tough game for us. They have beaten us twice in the league so we have to be on top of our game. We have done very well in most of the big games this season and the lads really fancy the challenge on Wednesday. We will go into the game as huge underdogs- but we have been that all season, so it’s nothing new for us!”
“The lads will give it their all -that’s for sure!”
Glassy’s Andy Horbury can’t wait to get started. “ I’m just really looking forward to the game” he told us. “ Even though Grimsby have beaten us both times we played them this season, I think the form we have shown in recent months proves we can beat any team in this League”.
“Nobody expected us to make it into the Play-Offs” Andy points out. “so for us there is no pressure; we just have to turn up and give the performance we all know we are capable of”.
Meanwhile, over in Bradford, Eccleshill United, overtaken right at the end of an excellent season and eventually finishing fourth in the table, welcome fifth-placed Shirebrook Town to the Mitton Group Stadium- and Eagles midfield talisman Charlie Flaherty insists that the Eagles won’t be changing their approach to this vital encounter. He told us “The importance of the game is huge, but we will approach it like we have done every other game this season and that’s to win it. Shirebrook are a very strong side and I believe that they will fancy their chances as strongly as we do, having both beaten each other this season”.
Charlie admitted that that last-day regular season defeat was a huge blow, but he feels that the squad have moved on and are in the right frame of mind for the game “Losing the final game of the season in what could have seen us go up automatically hurt us as a team, but we are a very strong minded team and will not dwell on it. It has just made us want to put it right on Wednesday night -and take it into Saturday. Overall I think it has been an excellent season for Eccleshill and I believe Sean (Regan, Manager) and Des (Hamilton, Assistant) will be really proud of us. They would be no better way to repay their faith in us than winning these last two huge games”.
Charlie pin-points the front men on both sides as key to the outcome. “Going into Wednesday both teams have in form strikers” he pointed out “Anthony Brown has been immense for us since he signed and last month’s eight goals were really well-deserved. Shirebrook have there go-to man in Kieran Watson who has been excellent himself this season ,so both defences will need to be switch on -as any sniff of a chance and either one will make you pay”
“Overall I hope it’s a great spectacle and two teams put their everything into what I can only see as being been a fantastic game to be involved in”.
Shirebrook finished fifth at the end of a superb regular season, but their Manager Rob Camm believes that League form is likely to be irrelevant when the whistle blows on the Kingsway” It’s an exciting time for all involved. I don’t feel that there’s much between the four teams in the Play- Offs so it’s going to come down to who performs and handles the pressure on the day. The home draw has to be seen as an advantage, but we believe we can go there and do a job”.
“The lads have been excellent for us this season and I’m sure they will give us everything tomorrow night to try and put us in the final”.
Shirebrook’s 52-goal marksman Kieran Watson feels that whatever happens at Eccleshill, his team-mates have every reason to look back on the season with pride. Keiran told us “Yes, we’re really looking forward to it. We had a training session on Saturday morning and preparation has been good, but I think Wednesday will inevitably come down to who wants it more. Eccleshill are a very good side and we have both beaten each other this season so it will be a tricky one for people to call”.
“ Regardless of the result on Wednesday, it’s been a good season for the club on the whole” Kieran insisted .“ If we had been offered the Play Offs at the start of the season we’d have taken it, so let’s see where it takes us”.
“Finally I’d just like to thank Cammy, Jamie (Allan, Assistant Manager), Sax (Gavin Saxby, Player-Coach) and all the supporters for their efforts this season. See you on Wednesday!”
So there you are. All four camps have had their say. It’s now time for those match day preparations and team talks before the talking stops and the action starts.
Get yourselves to Grimsby or Bradford if you can-and if you can’t, keep it tuned to the Bootiful Game as what’s sure to be a fantastic evening of football unfolds…