Dover boss Andy Hessenthaler says their FA Trophy clash on Saturday is a ‘free hit’.
National League survival is the priority this season and after playing just twice since the end of October, Dover’s return to action away to Woking in the third round has come at a good time.
Hessenthaler’s squad are in league action at home to Chesterfield on Tuesday night, part of a busy run of matches that sees five games inside 15 days.
“It’s a free hit,” explained Hessenthaler. “It’s a game that we need because it will be our first one in a month since the King’s Lynn match.
“We’ve got to use it for the more important one against Chesterfield on December 22. They are playing at the moment and we haven’t been playing.
“We’ve got to have a few days of training and then the focus is on Chesterfield really as that’s the most important thing to us.”
Dover are one of two teams yet to reach double figures in terms of league matches played this season.
It means their haul of just six points from nine matches has meant they are in danger of being cut adrift in the relegation zone – but it’s a deceiving league table with so many teams having matches postponed due to Covid cases.
“It’s disappointing because of the position we are in down there,” said Hessenthaler. “We want to play games and climb up the table as quickly as we can.
“You look at the table but it’s not worth looking at it really as some teams have played a lot more games than others.
“As a manager you’d rather have the points on the board but I also know if we can get a run going and get some results then we can climb the table. It’s not worth really looking at it too much as it stands.”
Dover’s two-week break from action – and Hessenthaler being stuck in the house – has given the Whites boss time to evaluate their matches so far.
He’s had additional time to analyse their games, and is more concerned by their defensive weaknesses than their failure to score goals.
“You do look back over the games we’ve played more as you’ve got that extra time,” he said.
“We’ve not scored enough goals but we’ve also conceded so many goals - only King’s Lynn had conceded more than us - and our figure of 24 is in eight games because we had a clean sheet in the first match.
“That’s not good enough. I’m not as worried about not scoring goals, it’s the ones we’ve conceded. We know that if we can get a settled team it will help us.
“Yes, you analyse it and there’s work to be done once we are allowed back to train. We need to win a few games 1-0 and not concede goals.
“We are young and naive and the thing in this league is it’s relentless. If you make a mistake you are going to be punished for it.
“The errors we’ve made have not just been one error as well. We’ve made a mistake and then another mistake and it’s a goal. We’ve not managed to make a mistake and then helped get that player out of trouble. It’s always seemed to be two or three mistakes.
“We’ve got to start learning and we’ve got to do it quickly - it’s got to come from us working hard on it day in, day out.”
Despite their troubles, Hessenthaler remains determined to get things right for Dover.
They are his players – and he still believes they are good enough to climb the table.
“I’m up for anything to get this right,” he stated. “I’m not giving up on this group, I put them together apart from Josh Passley, who was here when I arrived.
“They’ve got to believe in themselves more. We’re in a position we don’t want to be in and we’re trying to get out of it.
“Once we can settle everything down and win games and get some confidence then we’ll be fine.
“We know where we need to be at the end of the season, the chairman has been open about that but we don’t want to talk about that (avoiding relegation) as it’s 11 against 11 each week and we need to pick up points.”
Paul Rooney (concussion) is back in contention along with Travis Gregory, who picked up a thigh injury after being rushed back against King’s Lynn in Dover’s last league game on November 21.
Oscar Gobern will serve the second of his three-match suspension in the FA Trophy before returning for the Boxing Day clash with Dagenham.
In addition, Hessenthaler will not rush back any of the players who have tested positive for Covid.
“It all depends how they are feeling and we’ll treat them accordingly,” he vowed.
“Talking to the boys who have tested positive, they’ve not been great. One player was struggling and has had a few tough days so it’s been difficult for them.”
Hessenthaler has been given a one-match touchline ban and £250 fine for comments made to the referee after the final whistle at King’s Lynn.