Before the start of the season, Dovercourt Rovers manager Jake Whitt wanted his side to enjoy the season while trying to finish as high as possible. “Our ambitions is always the same.” he said. “It’s about winning games of football and improving every week. A high finish in the league and attacking every competition is the goal, our desire and work rate won’t change based on our league position. We are enjoying our football at the moment which is really important.”
They hadn’t made a bad start either, finding themselves 3rd after 10-games and two-points off the top-two sides. For Rovers, it was pleasing to have made a strong start to the season. “The season has been really enjoyable. As a club, we were entering the unknown and there was a lot of buzz and excitement about our first season in the Border League. We’ve settled in well and we’re pleased with the start to the season we’ve made.”
Since losing on the opening day, they had gone 9-games unbeaten and found themselves on a 6-game winning run. A heavy loss to 2nd-place Ramsey & Mistley was out of their minds as they won 2 on the bounce, beating New Field and Mersea Island Reserves. The winning run was brought to an end as they drew with Great Bentley A but they won 6-games in a row as they were victorious over Parkeston Welfare Park, Boxted Lodgers Reserves, Great Bentley A (in the reverse fixture!), FC Clacton A, Bradfield Rovers and Parkeston Welfare Park (again!). Jake felt the club were in a position that represented them as a club.
“I think it [our league position] does [represent us as a club]” he explained. “Going on a 6-game winning run and being undefeated in nine shows the level of consistency you need to warrant that position in the table. I think in reflection we can be happy with the start we have made but at the same time know that as a team we probably haven’t played our very best football yet. That being said, in the run of games. we have had we have seen improvements every week.”
Being 2-points off the top-two certainly meant they were in contention for the title. They had a game in-hand over Ramsey & Mistley Reserves meaning they could find themselves second but would find themselves falling behind as the leaders Frinton & Walton had played a game less. Still, Whitt felt they still had a good chance to claim silverware, but only if they remained consistent. “I feel we are in a good position where we can kick on now and challenge at the top end of the league. We are ambitious and certainly want to get the very best out of ourselves every week, the table doesn’t lie. If we continue the good form and maintain consistency there’s no reason why we cannot win the league. We can only focus on ourselves though, one game at a time.”
A season of consistency was hard to come by as COVID had made the season stop-start, not allowing teams to make the most of their form. While the season was being played, there were plenty of highlights but the lockdowns and on-going Coronavirus pandemic had certainly brought its fair share of struggles. “I think the highlights of the season so far has been the response from the players to every training session and every game. The attitude has been superb, particularly after our first league game ending in defeat. Our 100% home record has been a real positive and it is important to us that we maintain that. The struggles of COVID has been a problem for everyone, inside & outside of football. And as much as we love our Saturday afternoons, we understand that the health of everyone comes first. We hope sooner rather than later we can resume playing again but only when it’s safe to do so. Fingers crossed not too long!”
“I think for us, the same as most clubs, it’s [the lockdowns] been difficult with the uncertainty of when and if we can play week in, week out. We are all in the same boat though so it would be unfair for me to say it’s hindered our cause. There’s been a good response from our side of things to the lockdowns and we are all in regular contact, we don’t lose focus.”
Any hopes of a return before the start of next season was limited but Jake knew what he’d expect from that. “I’m hoping for more of the same, to continue where we left off really. We have played some really good football up to this point but we can always improve though. I know the quality we have in the squad and still feel we are yet to show our very best. I think we, like everyone, are eagerly awaiting the restart with anticipation. Personally, I cannot wait to have football back” he exclaimed.
A huge part of that return meant players needed to keep themselves fit throughout the lockdown period if they were to return to action without a little pre-season. Jake placed his faith in his players but also knew, once it was safe to do so, he could help them in little sessions. “It’s down to them [to stay fit]. I place the onus on each player to keep themselves fit with their own regimes.”
“When it is safe to do so, I have done some 1-on-1 sessions with a few of the players to keep things ticking over as and when I can, but they are disciplined. A few of the lads have been going on runs and the gym together which is really good to see and is brilliant for team morale.”
And what are your ambitions? “Short term ambition would be winning as many games as possible and playing our best football at the level we know we can reach” he said. “Come the end of the season, we can reflect but at the moment, we are only focused on the next game. We aren’t short of belief and know if we can deliver week in, week out. We will be well in the mix but we cannot afford to get complacent or look too far ahead as there is still a lot of football to play.”
“Long term ambition for the club is about sustainability. Being competitive, bringing on and developing players, working hard both on and off the pitch and being as successful as we can,” he explained before continuing. “There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that allow us to run as a club. You need those selfless people who put the time in to making it all happen. For me, the long term plan is to continue putting the work into getting the best out of players both individually and as a collective. I’m fortunate to have a good mix of young players and senior players, both of which buy into my philosophy of how I want us to play as a team.”
“Personally, I think it’s important to always give younger players an opportunity. I have experienced senior players there to not only set an example but also to help them along the way as well. I am ambitious in where I think we can go as a club in the future and I’m more than prepared to work harder than ever to achieve it.”