By Ian Ridley
WHITES will go into the big Hereford FC promotion clash at the Ray Mac tomorrow (Saturday March 25th) bolstered by two new signings to offer hope of better things to come after a difficult week.
After 10 straight Evo-Stik Southern South and West Division wins, Steve Claridge’s injury hit side suffered defeat last week at fellow play-off contenders Tiverton Town, to be followed by a Wiltshire Senior Cup reverse against Highworth Town in midweek as the manager nursed his skeleton squad through the semi-final.
But the signings of striker Jesse Waller Lassen and midfielder Franklyn Clarke on deadline day have boosted the squad.
“Jesse and Frank both trained really well with us on Thursday night and you could see that their presence gave the rest of the lads a lift,” said Steve.
“We have been shorn of personnel but now we have some reinforcements and some options. Really good ones too,” added the manager.
The signings are timely with 41-goal Justin Bennett still a couple of weeks away from fitness after a hamstring pull and midfield still thin, with Chris Onoufriou and Sam Roberts sitting it out again alongside long-term casualties Calum Brockway and Danny Young.
The manager also has worries in defence, with Alex Bass having sustained an injury in training with parent club Portsmouth and defender Brian Dutton still struggling with a thigh strain. Captain Kane O’Keefe and Callum Hart face fitness tests ahead of the match.
Hereford come to Old Sarum able to clinch the title should results elsewhere go their way but Whites will have plenty to say about that as they seek to climb into third place – with second the eventual aim - to secure a home tie in the play-offs.
Steve Claridge for one is relishing the occasion as his side look to delay Hereford’s promotion party and enhance their own prospects.
“It’s like a cup final for us,” he said. “It’s fantastic at our level to be hosting a club like Hereford.
“I want to congratulate them on the season they are having. People talk about having resources but it’s still not easy to do what they have done, which is dominate the league from day one. I don’t think there’s ever been a doubt they would win it.
“If we had been able to get our act together sooner, we might have been able to run them closer but we had lessons to learn early on and it took a while.
“I’m just disappointed that we haven’t been able to open up the ticketing to their entire fan base because you want as many as possible there for these big games to create the best possible atmosphere.
“It’s always the problem though when a club suffers for the behaviour of one or two idiots. We know that the majority of their fans are fantastic.”
Whites can look to a thrilling 4-3 win over Hereford in the FA Trophy earlier this season for encouragement but Steve insists this will be a different visiting team.
“At that time, you could identify weaknesses in their side that you could exploit,” Steve explained. “Now they’re bigger, stronger and more experienced. They are a proper unit.
“We will have to be at the top of our game to beat them but I do think we are one of the few sides capable of beating them. And with the new players, I am more confident than I was this time last week.
“We went to Tiverton with eight first team players missing, then I had to try and win the game at Highworth while making sure I didn’t risk key players ahead of the Hereford game and at the same time giving playing time to some who needed it.
“I always want to win games, and that goes for every cup competition, but I hope people understand where we are as a squad and that there is also a bigger picture here.”
That bigger picture comes tomorrow, and Steve wants Whites fans to show the same support, and make the same noise, as at the other big games the Ray Mac has hosted since the formation of the club two years ago.
“Get behind us,” is the manager’s message. “We’ve appreciated your efforts all season and we’ll need you right till the end, home and away. Come and give us that backing again.
“This is going to be a fantastic occasion, a great day. These are the sort of games we want to be playing more regularly in the future.”
Supporters are reminded that this is an all-ticket game and tickets have to be purchased in advance, with none available on the day.
Gates open at 1pm and there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off for the victims of this week’s London terror attack.
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