Artificial pitch is sure to test Athletic

Date published: 30 November 2018

Athletic have already set off on their long journey south as they prepare to take on Maidstone United in the second round of the FA Cup tomorrow, but for the manager it’s not just their opponents who’re causing him headaches.

As appears to be a much more regular scenario these days, Athletic’s National League hosts have ripped up their grass pitch and installed an artificial 4G surface, meaning Frankie Bunn’s team will have to make a swift adjustment from their usual grass to plastic.

The Kent side made the change from grass to the artificial surface - the first in the country to do so - when their Gallagher Stadium first officially opened in 2012.

Since then it’s hosted a number of FA Cup games, including against Rochdale in 2016, which saw the two sides draw 1-1, with Dale winning the replay at the Crown Oil Arena.

However, the prospect of playing on a fabric surface isn’t something which Athletic boss Bunn is particularly looking forward to.

He said: “I prefer grass. Artificial pitches have improved, but if the Football League and FA say you can’t have AstroTurf pitches within the Football League, why should clubs within the Football League enter competitions that have artificial pitches?”

Athletic have been training on a 4G surface this week in the build-up to the trip to Maidstone, but it will still be something their players will have little experience of when they take to the field tomorrow.

Athletic midfielder Dan Gardner will be missing tomorrow after coming off injured during Tuesday’s 1-1 home league draw against Lincoln, while front-man Ishmael Miller is out through suspension after he was sent off in the same fixture.

It is still unclear how bad Gardner's is as he is still waiting to have a scan on his knee.

“We're still waiting for the swelling to go down and he'll (Gardner) be scanned as soon as possible, so when that's done, we'll know more about it,” Bunn said.

“It's a blow to lose Ishmael, to eventually get him to something like we know he can be and then not have him available is a loss, but we move on and utilise the squad.

“It's bad timing with this month and an important game Saturday.

“Each game is of importance and we're just hoping we get people back as soon as possible.

“The squad will be tested. We've picked up a few more injuries than we would like so it's being tested to the full, but it’s a chance for people to perform.

“That’s why we have 20 men within the squad who are available for situations like this.

“We have to get on with it and other members of the squad have a chance to step in and they need to take that chance.”

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