Sam Saunders previews Saturday’s Tony Craig testimonial against The Lions
Brentford midfielder Sam Saunders believes there will be no issue separating the business of preparing for the new Sky Bet Championship season with the sentiment of Tony Craig’s testimonial against Millwall tomorrow. Saturday’s match at The Den is the last chance for players and coaching staff from both sides to prepare for the new English Football League season which begins on 6 August. While Sam, who spent three years at Griffin Park with Tony, admits it will be a great day to be involved in, he is under no illusions about how important the match is in terms of preparing for the new campaign.
“Tony Craig was a fantastic servant for this club and a fantastic servant for Millwall,” said Sam. “He came in and all the fans took to him because of the kind of player, and the kind of lad, that he is. How he is on the pitch is how he is every day in training and how he is with the lads. All of the boys got on fantastically well with him here. He is a leader and a winner and you can’t have too many of them in the dressing room. However, it is the last friendly that we have got to impress the gaffer, it’s the last friendly we have got to make sure that we are ready for Huddersfield, and it’s the last friendly to get our match fitness back. Millwall will be exactly the same and we are going there to put a performance in and to win. It is great for Tony Craig to get his testimonial, which he thoroughly deserves, but we are not going to take it lightly. We want to go out there and get a result.”
A niggling injury limited Sam’s match time in the early stages of pre-season but the 32-year-old has recovered sufficiently to come through an hour of The Bees' last two friendly matches against 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Peterborough United. Despite results not going their way in pre-season so far, Sam is 100 per cent confident that he, and the team, are moving in the right direction and will be ready for the season opener at the John Smith’s Stadium in a little over a week.
“It was great to get the minutes on the pitch,” said Sam. “I have been doing a lot of work with the sports science guys and the physios. Data wise I was up there with the lads but I needed that football contact on the knee. I had to be a bit more patient regarding the games but it was nice to get a couple of games under my belt. It was nice to get back into the swing of it but I think myself, and a lot of the lads, would still say we are a little bit rusty on the ball but we are improving every game. I felt we played some better stuff on Tuesday. The movement was a lot more fluid and we created bundles of chances. It was positive that we could have scored eight or nine goals. Hopefully we can continue to improve on that for Saturday’s game and take it into Huddersfield Town.”
This is Sam’s eighth pre-season in West London since he signed from Dagenham and Redbridge back in the summer of 2009. Sam is in no doubt that this has been one of the toughest pre-seasons of his career so far and feels that the medical and sports science team deserve a lot of credit for getting the players in the shape that they are.
“It has been good but it has been tough,” said Sam. “It is a week shorter than normal but we have definitely got the workload in. We went to Germany and it wasn’t anything other than a training camp. The players were glad to get home because it was tough work. It was a lot harder than it was last year and hopefully that will bear fruit come the start of the season. I would maybe have liked one of two more games but nothing is ever perfect. A few lads have missed a game here and there but that is part and parcel of it. It was good to get two hard games under my belt in a short space of time. I am pleased with that and I am pleased with how my fitness is improving. The sports scientists are fantastic and Chris Haslam has done a fantastic job with all the lads. He works really hard with individual players. I feel good and I am looking forward to it.”