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Clutching at straws to think qualifying will benefit

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He may well make his rather vague points in a restlessly round-about way, but Martin Jol never falls short of telling it as it is, regardless of his humble demeanour. Stating that matches against Crusaders and NSI Runavik weren't in the slightest bit 'competitive' is a tad discordant to two sides who put up a good, well-organised fight, but in defence of our newly acclimatised manager, he has all but hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Respect should be shown, and hastily so, to our three separate competitors whom we have faced over these agonisingly early months. Jol's newly inherited side haven't had it easy, what with the short break - almost akin to waking up, frustratingly, at 5 o'clock when your work shift starts at 10 - and the spirit shown from Runavik and Crusaders respectively should be admired greatly. The drab 0-0 draw on the Faroe Islands has been perhaps underestimated in terms of our opponent's guile and tactical nous.

That doesn't detract, however, from the simple point Jol is trying to make: no matter how fancily our Europa League Qualifying campaign is dressed up, it's been a damning drain on our resources, and those who suggest we'll be in better shape come season-start, may well be proved justly incorrect. Of course, with RNK Spit providing the stern test that they have done so far, maybe the first team are getting a suitable pre-season test, to iron out the injuries and eradicate the sluggishness. A shorter break, theoretically at the very least, should make room for a more instant peak fitness. It's not all as simple as that, though.

From the offset, Jol should be congratulated in what were more-than-likely obvious first team decisions. Simple obstacles such as NSI Runavik would usually be met with less-than-reasonable force, but the Ducthman was more-than-aware that there will be no friendlies and no meagre pre-season tournaments in which to dry run his preferential eleven. Instead, the best players have to be thrown straight into the mix, competitively too. At risk of injury and at even greater risk of inevitable fatigue, it is still all Martin Jol can do if he wants to prepare his side sufficiently.

So far, we've been met with a jubilant degree of luck, thanks to which no major injuries have occurred and at least some sharpness in play is ambiguously returning. Jol's comments, though, that these European ties provide no real test in relation with a game against 'Porto or whoever', come hand-in-hand with abundant proof.

Late June flights to tight, narrow Faroese airstrips may sound romantic and light-hearted, but at a time when the remainder of England's elite are sunning it up and reaping some well-deserved rest, perhaps it is less welcoming than first perceived. Add to that the little threat that Runavik posed and you have yourself an-almost unredeemable two weeks of travelling and lackluster football on your hands. And while we entertained, and dismantled accordingly, Crusaders, those around us were playing suitably resilient friendlies against far-flung foes who would provide a genuine test of ability and sharpness.

So four weeks into pre-season, and, arguably, those around us have had the greater preparation. Thankfully, our latest opponents, RNK Split of Croatia, do seemingly have the quality to pose some sort of threat, the sight of which became no more apparent than in the first leg. As the Croatian side retained possession with unnerving ease, it became abundantly clear that our preparation so far has been nothing short of wasteful. All we can really hope, is that post Split (assuming we win), we are drawn against a side of genuine class that will battle us to the very end, as the way things are going currently, Jol's men will think Aston Villa are just another Runavik.