IAN Long believes Alvechurch will not be fazed by the challenge of playing form side AFC Rushden & Diamonds after insisting they play better when the pressure is on.
Church’s first defeat in eight matches last week, losing 2-0 at Leiston, allowed Diamonds to leapfrog them into the play-off zone in Southern Premier Central.
Diamonds lie third in the form table after beating play-off contenders King’s Lynn Town and Stratford Town, but Long’s side had won six out of seven before going down to two late goals at Suffolk side Leiston.
With Diamonds now fourth in the league standings, but only one point ahead of sixth-placed Church who have a game in hand, it is set up for another cracking contest, says Long.
“The pressure will be on us for Saturday, especially after the results last weekend, but I always back us to bounce back,” said Long. “When the pressure is applied, the lads always respond. It will be a stern test because Rushden have been on a great run but we will relish it.”
Just four points separate third-placed King’s Lynn and Biggleswade in eighth and Long suggests any three from six teams can book a play-off place. Kettering Town look firm title favourites and Stourbridge are well placed for second but then it could be a scrap to the wire between King’s Lynn, Rushden, Stratford, Alvechurch, Coalville and Biggleswade.
“I think 75 points will be good enough to get into the play-offs so that means we’ve got to win eight of our last 12 matches,” said Long. “It might be less because a lot of the teams have to play each other. We’re in a good position but we need to end strongly.”
Long, though, felt last weekend’s loss at Leiston was a reminder they still need to improve. There was little between the sides until the hosts grabbed the first goal on 73 minutes when George Keys converted the loose ball after keeper Dan Crane parried Christy Finch’s free kick.
Keys was then red-carded for a foul on Andre Landell with ten minutes left but Leiston added an injury-time second through Finch from a counter-attack.
“There was nothing between the sides. Leiston had the better of the first half and we had the better of the second half,” said Long. “I don’t think we did enough to win because we didn’t create enough chances but two individual errors cost us.
“That’s something we need to learn. we want to attack every game but sometimes a point away is a point gained.”
Alvechurch kept their squad ticking over with a friendly at Sutton Coldfield Town on Tuesday, going down 2-1.
Apart from Josh March, Zack Foster and Lee Chilton, the rest of the squad got at least 45 minutes under their belt. The line-up included Charlie Price, who saved a penalty and who has been recalled from his loan at Gresley after he had been on the recovery trail following a back operation.
Full-back Foster (sore throat) is expected to be fit for the trip to Diamonds’ Hayden Road, but front-runner March (groin) and playmaker Chilton (hamstring) remain doubts.