ZANDER Diamond has told his Burton Albion team-mates there is plenty of hard work to do as they prepare to enter what is often a crucial festive period.
The 27-year-old, who has become the Brewers’ regular skipper in his first season at the Pirelli Stadium, helped his side return to winning ways in League Two with a 1-0 home victory over Accrington Stanley after two disappointing defeats having returned from suspension.
The victory moved Albion up to ninth in the table — just a point off the play-off places — but Diamond insisted all the Brewers had done so far was build a ‘platform’ from which to possibly launch a bid to be involved in the promotion mix come the end of the season.
He said: “We are going into a crucial period, of course it is, I’ve been in the game a long time to know that.
“You know, injuries play a part, the distraction of Christmas and New Year, things like that, but the boys here are very close-knit and very hard-working.
“Some people do say if your Christmas period is really good, it kind of sets you up for the next year.
“We’ll take one game at a time, but it’s most important that we do pick up the points around that period, you know, we’ve got two home games in that period, but the Chesterfield game (tomorrow) is the most important one and hopefully we’ll go there and put a good show on.
“The table is very tight and you want to keep up there near the play-off spots.
“When we were in fifth place, it was great looking at the table on a Saturday night or a Sunday, whenever you’re playing, and the team’s there, albeit it might be on goal difference or points — it doesn’t matter, it’s always good.
“We’re sitting in a decent position up to now, but we know it’s only a platform — we’ve got a lot of hard work to go, as the manager did say to us.
“Inside, we know where we want to be, but that takes hard work and desire to do the right things and pick up points.
“A run of results either way can make a lot of difference at the moment.
“It shows you with our unbeaten run that we can go on runs and mix it with the so-called best teams in the league.
“It’s a platform, but we can’t let it slip at Chesterfield and Barnet (a week today), we need to keep our eyes on the ball and then hopefully we’re sitting on more points in the coming weeks.”
Although the Brewers had won at League One Crewe Alexandra the previous week, the importance of the Accrington victory was not lost on Diamond having been beaten by strugglers Aldershot Town and Wycombe Wanderers in their two previous league outings.
“It was most important, first and foremost, just to get the win,” he said after Sunday’s game.
“You know, the cup game was a bit of a distraction — the league form’s your bread and butter and we were disappointed with the last two outings in the league and, you know, you don’t want to make it a habit.
“I watched Match of the Day last night and there was (Alan) Hanson saying ‘you don’t want two to become three, three to become four’, so it stopped the rot, which was good, and luckily enough we managed to that, and the clean sheet’s a bonus. With the cup result, that’s two clean sheets in a row.
“The boys done really well last week and it just shows you the depth we’ve got in the squad at this moment in time with Webby (Aaron Webster) going in there at short notice.
“We got another clean sheet. You know, it wasn’t the greatest of games — the conditions were blustery — but you’ll look back at the end of the season and it’s a big three points for us.”
Diamond admitted he was left wondering in the run-up to the game if he would be involved against Stanley having missed the trip to Gresty Road through suspension having been the victim of a poor refereeing decision at Wycombe which saw him concede a penalty and be sent off.
Aaron Webster and Marcus Holness performed admirably in his absence at Crewe, but boss Gary Rowett handed Diamond an immediate recall on Sunday.
“I said earlier in the week I want to play as many football games for this club as I can, and I get robbed of that,” Diamond, who has played in all but two of Albion’s games this season, said of his suspension.
“You know, it’s not a penalty first and foremost, but to get a red card and your marching orders — I didn’t want that against my name.
“It’s happened and the gaffer’s shown a bit of faith in me and put me straight back in, and hopefully I’ve delivered. I just want to kick on again.
“After the result last week it did go through my mind if I was going to come straight back in, but the most important thing is to keep working hard in training and not let your standards drop, and give the manager a headache.
“He’s paid the money to pick the team and he went with me today.
“You know, G’s (Webster) done really well in there but, you know, I thank the manager for that.
“As I said, I need to keep my standards going because, as we’ve seen, there’s boys on the sidelines who can go in and do a job.
“The boys (on the bench) are champing at the bit to play, everybody does want to play, and we’re a close-knit bunch, you know, it’s not as if one’s got a grudge against somebody if the other one goes in ahead of them.
“It’s a great bunch of lads. I’ve said from day one, it’s a real pleasure to be in this team.
“From a personal point of view, it was great to go back in and show a good performance.”
Diamond expects the emphasis to remain on being solid at the back for the Brewers’ next two games — away to Chesterfield and Barnet — and believes a change in philosophy has stood them in good stead on the road in recent weeks.
He said: “I think early in the season we kind of got found out, we tried to play attractive football and we got hit on the break, and teams just picked us off.
“We had a couple of bad results, but we keep harking back to the games at Plymouth and Rochdale, and even Crewe, when we showed we can go away from home and get points, so we’ll go into the game with plenty of confidence.
“The league’s very tight at the moment, so we’ll know what it’ll take to beat Chesterfield, who are on a good run at this moment in time.
“If we manage to get something on the road then so be it, but as long as we take points from games we won’t be far off.”