GUISELEY boss Mark Bower has challenged his Lions side to play the underdog card to telling effect – ahead of the start of their latest play-off adventure at Nethermoor this evening.
The Skrill North outfit welcome Billy Heath’s North Ferriby United in the first leg of their play-off semi-final (7.45pm) and while in their three previous play-off campaigns at this level, the Nethermoor outfit were saddled with a fair bit of expectation, this season is different, according to Bower.
Back in the autumn, Guiseley, whose budget was reduced ahead of the 2013-14 campaign, were struggling at the bottom end of the table, only for the team to enjoy a remarkable transformation under Bower after the departure of arguably the club’s most successful manager in Steve Kittrick.
So much so that Bower’s side have managed to secure a play-off spot after taking a superb 69 points from a possible 93 to finish fifth, an achievement in itself.
Those results have included a fine double over tonight’s opponents Ferriby, who lost out at the weekend in the two-horse race for the title with AFC Telford.
Bower insists that seasonal double over the East Yorkshiremen counts for nothing and will not serve as a psychological advantage and is adamant his side are the outsiders in their quest to clinch promotion to the Conference Premier.
Bower said: “I think we are the underdogs and the bookies have got us down as the outsiders to go up.
“I feel we are, given that we have had so many games in comparison to the others, while we were not in a position to rest players on Saturday when other teams were.
“Ferriby have had a terrific season and Altrincham and Hednesford have had decent runs recently and managed to rest players at the weekend and prepare for the play-offs. Whereas we have had to keep going until the last seconds really and have got tired legs along the way.
“We will be feeling the outsiders, but at the same time, that maybe means there is not as much pressure on us as it was unexpected we’d get here.
“But we are going in with a plan to win it. There’s no point being in the play-offs if not.
“I don’t think there is too much between the teams in there. We have got a chance, but I do think people will be looking at us as outsiders.”
On Ferriby, he added: “They are a good side and were in with a shout of winning the league on Saturday and you don’t do that by not being a good side.
“I feel our two league victories will count for nothing when it comes to these two games as both were very tight games which could have gone either way. While personnel has changed and we could be without one or two key players and possibly them as well.
“It’s about who can step up to the mark in the two games and is going to be difficult.”
Key striker Adam Boyes is a doubt with a stomach injury. Alex Johnson (hamstring) is struggling, while Danny Forrest (calf) is out. Kevin Holsgrove is fit, but lacking match sharpness.
Bower added: “We are down to the bare bones a little at the top of the pitch, but we’ve a good squad and I am sure whoever pulls on a shirt can do a terrific job for us.”
Also in play-off action tonight are Neil Aspin’s FC Halifax, just three games away from a remarkable return to the Football League.
The Shaymen welcome Cambridge United, with the Skrill Premier semi-final return leg taking place on Sunday.