Game on at last as King’s Lynn begin play-offs challenge after ‘bizarre’ week
- Credit: Archant
Ian Culverhouse couldn't resist the 'one game at a time' cliche in assessing his team's play-off campaign – what has been far from clear was exactly when those games would be played.
The Linnets boss admitted the saga that has surrounded the ever-changing scheduling of Saturday's semi-final at home to Stratford had been bizarre – and that was before Friday's decision to shift the final itself from Wednesday to Bank Holiday Monday after Stourbridge forfeited home advantage in the other semi-final, against Alvechurch.
It was the latest twist in a story that has almost defied belief, but Culverhouse is confident the backdrop of ineptitude, all sparked by the inquiry into Stratford's use of an ineligible player earlier this season, will be ignored when it comes down to the real business of the day – football.
'I feel sorry for all four sides really,' said Culverhouse. 'It has been ludicrous. For the offence to take place in February and to leave it to the last kick of the season to deal with it, is unbelievable. It should have been dealt with there and then and then everybody could have got on with what they needed to do.
'All four teams have worked so hard to be in this position and to be treated like this is very unjust.'
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Culverhouse took a light training session on Wednesday night, after which he spoke to the squad, not just about the crazy situation, but the footballing task ahead.
'We were going on the game being played on the Friday night so that is why we trained on the Wednesday just to get some sharpness in their legs and then we were told after the training session it was going to be played on the Monday. Then of course it was changed to Saturday.
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'You try and plan because if we had known early on in the week that we weren't going to be playing until the Saturday we would have got a little bit more sharpness and fitness into their legs and probably got two sessions in.'
Culverhouse has always spoken highly of the mental fortitude of his players and the dressing room camaraderie that is so often the backbone of good teams – and revealed the reaction to the ever-changing fixture schedule among his squad.
'The group are really focused,' he said. 'They have been joking about it and were light-hearted about it. I am blessed to have a good squad who know what they have to do.
'We had a little discussion after the Wednesday session and we just said that we had put ourselves in a fantastic position and that they should take full credit for that and for the way they have turned it around. Now it is about a three-game season, three cup finals if you like.
'But we have to take each game as it comes and we have to focus on the first one and make sure we are right for that and then hopefully that leads on and on and we get what we all want at the end of the three games.'
Culverhouse's only injury concern is striker Harry Limb, who is doubtful with a heel problem, but otherwise he has a fully-fit squad, although he does have to manage his resources carefully given the campaign could last three games.
'We had a few knocks and bumps after the Stourbridge game last weekend, but we are hopeful everyone is cleared up and raring to go,' he said. 'We said after that game it had been hard for the subs and those who haven't played regularly, but they have contributed along the way and they will contribute in these next games as well so they need to keep sharp and keep focused as well. I know a few of them are unhappy with the minutes they have played, but they are a big part of this group. We need everyone in the dressing room to be ready if called upon.'
Stratford boss Thomas Baillie brings his team to Norfolk urging his players to forget the five days of madness.
'This week has made preparing to play a game – whenever it was going to be played – very, very difficult,' he said. 'We have had players having to try to arrange work, sorting out travelling, then changing things three or four times and it has been tough.
'People forget we are part-time at this level, and the volunteers too, and it's been a farce. It's been quite embarrassing for all involved. We've just got to get our heads straight and it's just another hurdle to overcome.'
Should Lynn get through the next two games they will head to the winners of Monday's Northern Premier League final play-off final between South Shields and Warrington Town.
'Whoever progresses from the South – and I hope it is us of course – I do hope they go up, I really do. The way we have all been treated it just smells of a wrong 'un to me.'