Sidmouth Town manager Danny Burwood was very pleased with what he saw from his team in a 3-0 defeat to Western League Exmouth Town on Wednesday night.
The Vikings had the better of then first half at Southern Road, but were undone by a long ball up over the top just before the break and then ship two more early in the second half, but, for long periods, the Vikings game as good as they got.
Burwood said: “I was really pleased with what I saw at Exmouth. For our first outing of the pre-season, and against quality opposition, we applied ourselves well and, especially in the first half, we kept the ball well, got down then flanks a number of times and delivered some great balls into the area, but were unable to make one of those wing raids count, which was a shame. Then, as so often happens in such situations, they did us with the long ball and, when given an opportunity as he was presented with, Jordan Harris usually snaps them up – and he did!”
He continued: “When you concede so close to the break having spent the previous 40 odd minutes going toe-to-toe with the opposition, it tends to alter the half-time team talk. However, I really was very happy with what I saw in the first half from the lads. They showed energy, they showed desire and they were daunted when individually and collectively up against a very good Town side.”
Burwood then spoke further on his teams performance at Exmouth saying: “I don’t like to single out players from a team performance for that is what we are – a team – however, I must mention Tom Diamond and Ethan Slater. Tom really is, as his surname suggests, a ‘diamond’ – he is so clam and relaxed playing in a central defensive role and he has that special quality that all central defenders need – speed of recovery – Ethan, who had a spell at Exmouth, played like he had something he wanted to prove and his was a very cultured performance.”
He added: “I certainly learnt a lot from the 90 minutes or so we played at Exmouth and I am very happy with the playing options I have.”
It is fair to say that neither side were able to field the team they might otherwise have started with owing to covid positive results and self isolating. That was something that Burwood alluded to when he said: “It was not ideal with both teams having to change what would have been their match plans and I feel sorry for the lads who are having to isolate as they are missing training and matches at a time when their number one priority – or desire – certainly in football teams – will be trying to nail down a shirt for our opening league game in three weeks time. It is tough for those who are currently missing out, but all the lads have come back into pre-season in great shape, they have all clearly been keeping themselves fit and that always makes life so much easier for team management when the lads are all back at champing at the bit and not in need of those endless and laborious hours of fitness training. The boys who have been missing out will now face playing ‘catch up’ but, as I say, they returned to pre-season in great shape so the odd 10 days out here and 10 days out there should not set them back too much.”
Continuing on the theme of how his players returned to pre-season, the Town boss said: “What is very pleasing for me at this stage is that it’s the same lads as I had this time last year at pre-season, but you can see they have all benefited from the ¾ season we got in last term. Our squad is a predominately young one and gaining experience is probably the one thing missing from their footballing lives – experience comes in all shapes and forms – yes, there’s match experience, but also the general experience that you get with being disciplined with your training and, when you cannot be with the others to make sure that you continue to uphold a standard of fitness that means, when your chance comes, you’re ready!”
He continued: “I trusted these lads last season and there’s nowt that I have seen both in pre-season which has been running for around five weeks, or in the game at Exmouth – our first action of the pre-season – that has changed my faith in this particular group of players we have in then first team squad.
“I am chuffed to bits that the likes of Lukey White, a player who could, in my opinion, grace a higher level, has resisted overtures – and there were a few suitors for Lukey – to stay with us. When, as manager, you get this happening, you know you are doing something right! He is a fine player and we are better team with him in the ranks.”
Burwood then reflected on the changes you need to make during pre-season game that sometimes have a negative impact on the outcome of the matches. He explained saying: “It’s always a difficult balancing act. There’s the need to give playing time throughout the number of players you may have at a fixture and, in doing that, you can affect the shape, pattern and flow of your game and that is what happened at Town. There are times when, as a manager, you have to give game time to everybody who has pitched up to help out at these games, particularly when you are missing players, as we were at Southern Road. Making changes ‘to give game time’ does affect the overall outcome. But, against all that, every minute in pre-season can be a learning time for a manager and a coach and, as I have already said, I learnt plenty from the game the other night.”
Reflecting further on his squad, the Vikings’ boss said: “We have a first team squad of 18/19 and that does need whittling down a little. However, that does not mean I am not looking to add further quality and depth if the right players are available to us. We look solid and settled in central defensive and that’s a huge plus for me. In Tom [Diamond], Matt [Coulson] and Ben [Clay] we have three talented central defenders which does allow me the luxury of playing with a ‘three’ or going with a back four. Ben [Clay] is crucial to our plans, he is so influential both on, and off, the pitch. He is a huge asset to us and that’s if he starts or comes off the bench, just to have his presence makes such a difference to us as a team.”
Looking ahead to the new season and a busy start that will see Town play seven games in 24 August days, the Town boss says: “It’s a tough start, but I would not have it any other way and, as I told the lads at the first pre-season session, and I am continually beating this particular drum. The coming season offers so many ‘derby games’ Living, as I do, in Exeter, and given the fact that many of the lads we have, and those in other teams, are familiar to each other having played youth football previously, its not just the East Devon derby games that are ‘big ones’ – yes, they will be special – and we meet Ottery and Axminster Town on the first three games, but I also regard the games against the likes of Elmore, Cullompton Rangers and Crediton United as ‘other derby dates’ which add extra spice to the fixtures. So, with five ‘derby’ games in our first seven league outings there is so much to look forward about and, indeed, be excited about.”
The Vikings meet Helston Athleltic at Manstone Lane on Sunday (1pm kick-off), the Cornish side have spent the weekend at Exeter University and will play the game at Sidmouth before heading home.
However, the Town boss is concerned about what strength of side he might/will be able to put out against the Cornish side. He said: “It’s a worry as I know of seven that cannot play and that’s down to a mix of self isolating, injury, Ethan [Salter] has an issue with his back and a couple of others are away and, with more and more folk being ‘pinged’ by the NHS track and trace app, it does make planning for games at the moment a difficult thing. I really am not sure just as to what we will have with us on Sunday, but, and as I always says, when players are missing, for whatever reason, it offers opportunity to others and I am sure the lads who do get onto our splendid Manstone Lane playing surface, will relish the chance and give us their all.”