I've endured some long, slow and insanely tedious coach journeys in my time but I don't think I've ever sat on a bus for thirteen and a half hours like Southend United had to on their way back from Plymouth on Saturday night. I feel for them I really do.
I recall travelling back up north from a game at Bournemouth once when we hit a serious traffic jam and it was awful. We got the boys off a couple of times at service stations so that they could stretch their legs but a ten hour trip (as that one was) takes a lot out of you mentally. There are only so many games of cards you can play, only so many cat naps you can take and only so many conversations you can share. Being cooped up like that drains you.
The fact that Southend had to undertake the trip after conceding two late goals at Home Park will only have intensified their frustrations. Their mood must have been pretty dark anyway. I know that mine would have been. After disappointment on the field you never want to dwell on it for too long but in this instance they didn't have any choice.
It capped a bad week for the Essex boys on the back of a 4-1 home mauling at the hands of in-form Swindon Town, who must now be favourites to win the title as well as the Johnstone Paints Trophy, following their narrow semi-final victory over Barnet on Tuesday night. I know that fellow finalists Chesterfield are in the division above but there can be little doubt as to who is playing with more confidence at the moment.
I didn't get chance to see the Barnet clash but I'm told that Swindon played with a ferocious intensity at Roots Hall that outlined just how super-fit they are. Back in pre-season I know that Paolo di Canio had his players in for up to ten hours a day working on their fitness levels and there is no doubt it's beginning to pay dividends.
The Italian is a workaholic obsessed with fitness - you only to have to look at his physique to know that he still takes good care of himself - and he's clearly got his squad training just as hard as he does.
I've always said that a tough pre-season works wonders. As a manager I often conducted a 'second pre-season' at the beginning of December too, giving my squad extra fitness sessions in the afternoon and it usually did the trick because my teams always lasted the distance. Footballers don't enjoy running and fitness work but if you put the miles in during July and then December it can work a treat.
Swindon's Paul Caddis was named on the shortlist for January's npower League 2 Player of the Month this week, alongside Barnet forward Ricky Holmes and Torquay United defender Mark Ellis.
As well as reflecting the good form of their respective clubs it's interesting to note that two defenders, Caddis and Ellis were on the list and that's great to see. Strikers grab the headlines but it takes all sorts to make a good team so it's nice when more defensive-minded lads gain recognition too.
Footballers don't usually pay too much attention to Player of the Month nominations but if an honour like that comes their way it can be one heck of a fillip for them. Just knowing that others have noticed how well you're playing is a wonderful confidence booster.
It's funny really because when the end-of-season awards are dished out on a national level the defenders rarely get a look-in but at the individual clubs it's almost common place for a hard working unsung hero to be handed the Fans' Player of the Year. I guess seeing your team every week ensures you don't miss who is putting the most effort in and who isn't.
With just one fixture beating the big freeze last weekend I'm hopeful that we'll see a lot more action on Saturday and there is no question that Dagenham & Redbridge v Northampton Town is the game of the day.
I've spoken before about my surprise at the Cobblers' misfortunes but I have to confess I'm not as shocked that the Daggers have found this season hard going.
John Still is a fantastic manager that has a formula that works well for his club but the sales of Danny Green and Paul Benson to Charlton Athletic hit them very hard. Everything the side did was built around the strengths of those two players, and while it's fair to say that few players are irreplaceable, Green and Benson almost were.
With both clubs nervously staring at a possible drop out of the npower Football League this summer, you can't stress the importance of this game highly enough.
Known for their physical play and battling qualities, this particular Dagenham & Redbridge versus Northampton Town encounter won't be for the faint-hearted either. If you have a ticket, expect to see one almighty blood and thunder battle at Victoria Road.