Martin Ling demands Torquay United turn games in hand in to points on the board
Playing catch-up is seldom a good way to win anything, even if it's not all your own fault, but manager Martin Ling still takes his Torquay United side to Burton Albion today saying: "We need to put up or shut up."
Ling wasn't just referring to this afternoon's match at the Pirelli Stadium (3pm), but more to the business of turning their games-in-hand into the sort of points-return which will lift the Gulls back into the top half of League Two and calm some of the nerves which have started to jangle around Plainmoor.
United can hardly be blamed for the postponements which now see them two or even three games behind their divisional rivals, but the fact is that they have slid down the table to 16th place in the process.
The Burton game will be only their third of what should have been the busiest month of the season. "It's been the most frustrating Christmas and New Year period I've ever been involved in," said Ling.
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"We've been preparing and up for games like Exeter, and then had them called off, or even on the coach to Aldershot when that was postponed.
"It's even been a long time [11 days] since we've had a chance to put the Wimbledon result [3-2 defeat at Plainmoor on New Year's Day] right.
"We've fallen behind for two reasons – we haven't played the games that we could have done, but we also haven't played well enough recently."
United tackle the Brewers on a run of two points out of the last 12. "The form hasn't been good enough, and we need to nip that in the bud and get on a winning run," he went on.
"I don't think there's as much wrong as some people deem there to be wrong.
"Torquay United is not a bad place to be at the moment – the dressing-room is definitely still buoyant. You do look over your shoulder sometimes, but if we can win our games in hand, we are right back on the heels of the play-offs. For me, the glass is always half-full rather than half-empty. But we need to put up or shut up."
After Burton, United come back to Plainmoor for two key homes games next week – the rearranged Devon derby against Exeter City on Tuesday night (8pm) and then Chesterfield at home next Saturday.
The squad which left Plainmoor yesterday included forward Ryan Jarvis and Billy Bodin. Jarvis has made a quicker than expected recovery from the cracked rib/punctured lung injury which he sustained in the 1-1 draw at home to Northampton on December 15, and Bodin trained yesterday after a scan on an ankle problem.
Both will have fitness tests and they will have serious competition anyway, for young striker Ashley Yeoman made a promising first senior start against Wimbledon, as support for leading scorer Rene Howe, and Ling hinted then that he would give his 20-year-old ex-scholar further chances.
Ling may have a decision to make there, but probably not too much difficulty with another choice in defence.
As well as young loanee Angus MacDonald has played in the last three games, it will be a surprise if the Gulls' boss does not recall Brian Saah at centre-back after a three-match suspension which stretched out to five weeks because of those postponements.
Burton (tenth), a point off the play-offs, hope to have defenders Zander Diamond and Anthony O'Connor back – they missed last weekend's 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Leicester City.
Manager Gary Rowett will doubtless be tempted to have former United striker Billy Kee pretty close to the action.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson, Mansell, Easton, Craig, Yeoman, Stevens, Howe, Lathrope, Jarvis, Cruise, Thompson, Leadbitter, MacDonald, Baker.
Not available: Morris (Achilles tendon), Macklin (broken metatarsal), McKenzie (family commitment).