Alan Knill sets initial 50-point target for Torquay United ahead of six-pointer with York
Manager Alan Knill believes that 50 points – it means a point a game over the last seven matches – will be the minimum requirement for Torquay United to be sure of lining up in npower League Two, rather than the Blue Square Bet Premier, next season.
Speaking ahead of today's key "six-pointer" against second-bottom York City at Plainmoor (3pm), Knill assessed the relegation traffic-jam and said: "People are telling me it may be 52 points to stay up this year, but usually it's 50 points and I still think that's going to be 50 points.
"Somewhere along the line most of the teams have to play each other, and it becomes quite difficult as the games run out. That 50 points has to be the first target, and getting there as soon as possible is everybody's aim."
Knill's reference to those crucial six-pointers applies to nobody more than York, who underlined the importance of today's game by travelling to South Devon on Thursday.
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The Minstermen, under new manager Nigel Worthington, play Torquay, Plymouth Argyle and Accrington Stanley in three of their next four games, with a trip to Bristol Rovers thrown in next Saturday.
Asked about York's decision to leave a day early, Knill replied: "With all due respect, I don't care about York. I've got enough to be concerned about with us. It could be York or any other team.
"It's about us being committed, as we have been in the last few games. If we are, it gives us a great chance of getting three points."
Apart from injured midfielder Craig Easton and winger Billy Bodin, who was claimed by Wales for the under-21 international against Moldova last night, Knill has everyone else available, including back-from-suspension centre-back Aaron Downes.
Downes' return gives Knill a slight problem, for United have effectively gone three games unbeaten without Downes and with 20-year-old Reading loanee Angus MacDonald in the heart of their defence.
MacDonald took over after Downes' third-minute dismissal at Dagenham (2-2), held his place at Southend (1-1) and when United ended their 11-match winless run by beating Chesterfield at home on Tuesday night.
"Yes, it is a difficult decision – Aaron has been one of the best players all season, and since he's been in the team, Angus has done particularly well," said Knill.
"We have thought about it, and made a decision, and everyone will find out the answer before kick-off."
The Gulls are feeling a good deal better about themselves than they did ten days ago.
Looking back over his short time in charge, Knill said: "I thought we played OK against Port Vale [0-1], we didn't turn up against Wycombe [1-2] even though we took the lead, we played OK in patches at Accrington [0-0], but against Oxford [1-3] we weren't good enough. It worried me a lot after the Oxford game.
"But since then the work ethic has changed, there's a real togetherness and that's everybody.
"When you go down to ten men, as we did at Dagenham, you can't carry anybody. But everyone dug deep there, we did the same at Southend and we did it again the other night against Chesterfield. That's the level – if we drop below it, it makes things difficult."
York, who have slipped into trouble on the back of 14 games without a win, are likely to give a second "debut" to their former striker Richard Creswell, 35, signed on loan from Sheffield United this week. United won 2-0 at Bootham Crescent in November, and there cannot be a better time to complete a first "double" of the season. York's arrival on Thursday actually eased the pressure to make any decisions on the pitch yesterday.
Groundsman Chris Ralph revealed that 40mm of rain fell on Plainmoor on Thursday alone, but he said: "We got on the pitch straight after Tuesday's game and opened it up as much as possible to help the drainage. As long as the forecast is right – drier with 20mph winds – we should be OK."
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, MacDonald, Downes, Cruise, Jarvis, Labadie, Mansell, Chapell, Benyon, Howe, Nicholson, Lathrope, Leadbitter, Macklin, Stevens, Craig, Morris, N Thompson, Yeoman.
Unavailable: Easton (injured), Bodin (international duty), Baker, Halpin and McKenzie (all out on loan).