Alan Knill aims to get the show on the road
Anxious to overcome a series of slow starts away from home, Torquay United have changed their travel arrangements ahead of Saturday’s League Two visit to Rochdale in an effort to cut down the amount of time they spend on the road.
In some ways the Gulls are going back to tried-and-tested methods under former regimes, for they are returning to the practice of leaving Plainmoor first thing on Friday mornings and then training at their destination.
Road travel on Friday afternoons has become a test of endurance and patience in the UK, and Devon’s three Football League clubs spend more time on the country’s motorways than any of their 72 fellow members.
For United, this end-of-summer has been as time-consuming as ever.
Manager Alan Knill, who has bemoaned a series of sluggish first-half displays away from home this season, reported: “We spent eight hours on the road before Morecambe, six to Northampton and seven to Fleetwood last weekend.
“We’re definitely thinking about how we can reduce that, so we’re trying something different this week.
“All our main pre-match preparation was done on Thursday. Both teams always want to start quickly, and we’re no different.
“We’re all looking for perfection all the time, but everybody is human and sometimes you have to accept that.
“We’re still prepared to try anything if it helps us to be better.”
So United’s team coach covered most of the miles to Lancashire on Friday morning, and then former Bury boss Knill used his contacts in Greater Manchester to access facilities for a training session in the afternoon.
United certainly need to be better than they were in last Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at Fleetwood Town, and the big question is whether Knill will decide that the time has already come to make a change or two.
A couple of have been forced up to now, by injury, suspension or Billy Bodin’s international call-up, but not really by choice. Knill said at the start of the season that a new-look team deserved to have around ten games to settle in, and we are still four games short of that point.
He has stressed this week that there is no sense of panic after the Fleetwood thumping, and a point a game from what has been a reasonably testing start is hardly a disaster.
However, you have the feeling that, even if he keeps faith with most of his regulars at Spotland this afternoon, he might not wait much longer if some of them do not deliver a little more.
Bodin is back from Wales Under-21 duty and is hoping to oust Courtney Cameron from the left-wing spot, but one of the “fringe” players who had 90 minutes against Plymouth Argyle reserves in midweek to could come into contention is one of the youngest.
Eighteen-year-old Plymothian Danny Sullivan, a first-year professional forward, has stepped up this season, as well as making a visible impact whenever he has been sent on as a substitute.
Rochdale, too, are still getting into their stride under former Argyle defender Keith Hill. Hill and Knill know each other well. “When I was at Bury, Keith was in his first spell at Rochdale, and we both had successful teams at the time,” said Knill.
“Someone said the other day that Bury-Rochdale is one of the biggest rivalries in football – well, it may not quite be Celtic-Rangers, but, if you live around there, it’s big enough.
“Keith is a character, that’s for sure. I used to enjoy watching his teams play, but hopefully I won’t this weekend.”
Dale won last Saturday’s derby against Bury, managed by former Torquay and Plymouth servant Kevin Blackwell, 1-0, but they did it without sent-off midfielder Peter Vincenti for most of the match, and Vincenti is suspended this weekend.
Their attack is likely to be led by another ex-Argyle man, big centre-forward George Donnelly.
The Gulls have everyone fit except young defender Kirtys McKenzie, who is grappling with a new regime to cope with his diabetes condition, and goalkeeper Michael Poke, who is expected to make his comeback from injury in next Tuesday’s Devon St Luke's Challenge Cup tie against Ilfracombe Town at Plainmoor.
Torquay United (from): Rice, C Thompson; Tonge, Pearce, Downes, Nicholson, Chapell, Mansell, Harding, Cameron, Hawley, Ball, Lathrope, Bodin, Craig, Benyon, Cruise, Sullivan, N Thompson, Yeoman, Hutchings.
Unavailable: Poke (injury), McKenzie (illness).