Richards warns season could be a sprint rather than marathon

16th Sep 2020

Penistone Church manager Ian Richards believes the new Toolstation NCEL Premier Division season could be a sprint rather than a marathon.

With the prospect of further lockdowns and tougher restrictions on free movement, there is real danger the 2020/21 campaign will be halted or cancelled entirely.

As a consequence, Richards wants Penistone to go hell for leather at the start of the season to ensure they are well-placed to claim a promotion spot if points-per-game is applied in the event of an early finish. 

“It (what will happen) is the unknown, but what I think will happen in our league is they won’t expunge the season,” Richards told Non League Yorkshire.

“Will it go to points-per-game or some kind of play-offs tournament, I don’t know? But what I do think they won’t cancel it like they did last year.

“Our mentality is we need a fast start and we need to get as many points on the board as quick as we can because if it does go points-per-game, we need to be a position where we’re in that top three.

“There’s a lot of variables we can’t control, but what we can control is our performances. 

“It is a case of ‘we’ve got Garforth Town Saturday and Staveley Wednesday’, but complete focus on Garforth Town. Then ‘right we’ve achieved what we want at Garforth, now our complete focus is on Staveley’. 

“If you look too far ahead, especially with what may come along, I think teams could drop silly points. We’ll be focussing on what is the most immediate priority, whatever the game.

“It is about getting as many points as quick as we can. It is not ‘oh if we go here, a point is a good result because it is a 38-league game season’. We have to think ‘right we need to get three points’. We have to have that mentality.

“You may have to change your formation, personnel or system of play because rather than saying ‘right, we can take a point and be more defensive’, we have to say ‘let’s go get three points’. It should make it more exciting.”

Providing there is no fixture changes, Church will have played eight league games by the end of October. Should stoppages for restrictions and bad weather occur, clubs will face chaotic midweek schedules. 

In Division One, an exodus of players to Step 7 has already happened and Richards admits he is not surprised and says he is combatting the potentially hectic fixture list by having a big squad.

“I can see players dropping down (if there’s midweek carnage), it depends on their values and what they want to get out of the game,” he said.

“I know some teams have put players on contract in our league to negate against that. I know some are paying big money so you wouldn’t walk away.

“What we have done is have a bigger squad than normal so if we do have injuries and suspensions and as you say three or four games a week, we have the squad to cope with that.

“I would totally understand if someone said ‘look, I’m going to go play football with my mates and enjoy playing’. At Step 7 you can play and there’s no worries about finishing the league. It is about playing football.

“It is not something I have 100% about, I’ve just thought about us and thought ‘let’s have a bigger squad than normal’.

“Our first game was Skelmersdale away and our first league game (before the fixture change) is Mansfield away (now postponed) and that’s a midweek as well.

“Mansfield is a good hour run and you usually hit a bit traffic. It is the start of the season so the lads are up for it, but if that was December and January, would you want to travel two hours to say the North West on a cold December night?”

Given the volume of games to be played in a shortened space of time, Richards also expects young players to be given more chances to impress across the NCEL. 

“It is a brilliant time for young players,” he said.

“If you’re a young player doing well in your reserves and under 23s or 21s at your club, you’ve got a great opportunity.

“It is one of those you take with both hands because managers remember you if you drop everything on a Wednesday night.

“We played Barton in the last game before lockdown and we had Eddie Newsome who plays for our reserves. I got in touch with him on the Tuesday before the Wednesday game because we had three missing. He said ‘yeah, no problem, I’ll be there’.

“He started on the bench, came on and did well. He had a great attitude and he’s done pre-season with us and he’s done really well in pre-season.

“If I was a young player now, I’d be thinking ‘be patient, work hard, do well and I’ll get my opportunity’. That would be my advice to young players.”

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