By Matt Badcock,
ANDY HESSENTHALER reckons Dover Athletic are showing they can cope with the heat of a relegation battle – but knows they can’t afford a sticky patch now.
The Whites have hauled themselves away from the foot of the National League table and ahead of this weekend had tasted defeat just once in ten games.
It was a sequence that also included some impressive wins against high-flying AFC Fylde and Wrexham as well as a creditable draw with Leyton Orient.
Hessenthaler is pleased with the turnaround since he returned to the club to replace Chris Kinnear in October.
The first 15 games brought 25 points and Hessenthaler feels the victories over teams like Wrexham show just how far they’ve come in a short space of time.
But he’s also aware now is not the time to overdo the praise with a crucial period ahead.
“We’ve got to keep looking up,” Hessenthaler, who left Eastleigh to make his Crabble comeback, said. “We can’t afford to slip up for too many games because we’re obviously playing catch up a little bit.
“With the 15 games we weren’t here for and only getting seven points, we’ve now got to make sure we don’t go into a bad run at the wrong time.
“That’s that bit of pressure we’ve got amongst the group and staff. At the moment the boys have handled it, we know our targets and it’s a good challenge, a big challenge, and one everybody is relishing.
“I’ve said it to the players this week. We went out of the FA Trophy on Saturday and everybody knew what my priority was. I was brought in to keep the club in this division.
“The one thing we can’t do, just because we’re on a good run, is rest on that. We’ve got to keep it going if we’re going to get out of the problems we’re in.
“I’m sure a lot of teams will be saying that down in the position we are and it’s going to be a battle to the end.”
A big factor in their upturn in fortunes has been switching from two nights a week to a full-time training schedule.
Although it meant some squad casualties, Hessenthaler says it has allowed fitness levels to improve to the levels needed to deal with a relentless competition.
Signings like Scott Doe, Jai Reason, player-goalkeeper coach Lee Worgan and midfielder Stuart Lewis have added Step 1 nous and they’ve had more time to work on how the management team want them to play.
“You don’t know (how it will go) because we had to change so much around,” Hessenthaler said.
“Fifteen games into the season, the club had seven points at the time. They were training part-time two nights, sometimes one night a week, and we had to change all that around.
“That transition over the first few weeks wasn’t easy. Some players couldn’t do it, some had jobs, and I think it showed in the first few weeks.
“We had a good result against Harrogate, but then we lost to Braintree and Dagenham. Since then we’ve kicked on and all credit goes to the players. They’ve dug in and they know what they’ve got to do.
“There’s a lot more work to do but we’re definitely moving in the right direction at the moment.
“Credit to the staff as well. We’ve had to get on the training ground, put some belief into the group, we’ve signed some players, inherited players and they’ve bought into our philosophy.
“Some players have gone out on loan, but we’ve tried to keep the group together and the spirit is good in the camp.”