Experience is an undeniable asset in a play-off scenario. But to be blessed with it means also having reached a certain age.
So it can prove a double-edged sword. On this basis it was instructive to hear from Dundee United’s Willo Flood and Falkirk’s Mark Kerr following the first leg of their Premiership play-off semi-final, two veteran players, who, while vital to both their sides’ hopes, might also be feeling the pace.
Flood and Kerr, 32 and 35 respectively, mentioned the recovery time, or lack of it, between this week’s two legs. Kerr conceded that, at his age, the quick turnaround of just 72 hours is “hard going”.
Flood, meanwhile, accused the architect of such an itinerary of cruelty. “The games come around so quick and I think that whoever thought playing on Tuesday and Friday was a good idea obviously has never kicked a ball,” he said.
So how will United, now reckoned by many to be up against it following Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at Tannadice, prepare for Friday night’s second leg? “By going down to the beach,” said Flood. It seems United are tapping into Plato’s belief that the sea “cures all ailments of man”.
The players will file into the surf at St Andrews today in a bid to gain the benefit of the sea’s restorative properties. They will then all file out again, ideally. “Hopefully nobody will get washed away, big Wato [Kuate] was like Eric the Eel in the water so we need to keep an eye on him!” said Flood.
It’s a handy advantage of being based near the sea, particularly a beach as attractive and historic as the West Sands at St Andrews. United train daily in the town and will bathe their aching limbs in the water where another Eric, Liddell, once trained en route to becoming 400m Olympic champion.
“We have been going to the beach as part of our recovery [for a while],” Flood explained. “We go in the water for ten to 15 minutes to help the muscles. Going in the water helps, you feel better after it.”
“After we’ve been in we then have a massage,” he added. “We have two masseurs in and their hands are going to be sore for the next couple of weeks with the amount of work they’re having to do.
“This is mental, the schedule is really tough but we’ll just keep going. We’ll be ready to go on Friday and there are no excuses.”
Flood was certainly not willing to get involved in a discussion about Falkirk’s artificial pitch. United’s Premiership promotion hopes now hang on 90 – or more – minutes on a surface that doesn’t always meet with approval, and where they’ve conceded three goals twice already this season. Both times they lost an early goal. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Flood rates Falkirk’s as the best such surface in Scotland. “You know what? It’s the best one in the league for me. For me if you have a plastic pitch in Scotland then it should be up to the standard of Falkirk’s. For me it’s OK and the rest of the lads know it’s not an excuse.”
Experienced campaigners are also expert at employing mind games. Flood noted the reaction of the visiting supporters at Tannadice on Tuesday, when Falkirk twice drew level.
“Their fans were giving it a bit after the game, thinking they’ve won the game – we know that,” he said. “They’ll think they have the upper-hand.”
But Kerr, too, was keen to play a trick or two, impishly noting that United, being the perceived big club, will be under considerable pressure from their fans come Friday.
Kerr would know, having played for the Tannadice club at a time when they were challenging for major honours.
“Before the league season started they would have said they were going up and would challenge Hibs and would definitely be ahead of Falkirk,” said Kerr. “Obviously the fans will feel they are the bigger club and the better team and all that.”
However, after falling at the final hurdle last season against Kilmarnock, Falkirk supporters also now expect to go one better this time.
They will feel their side are in a good position to progress to the play-off final.
“Our fans might not seem as intense, but they are,” noted Kerr. “They will get behind us. There is pressure for us as well. We got so close last year, so that brings its own pressure as well. We want to get back to the final and put it right.”