IT is often said that training is no substitute for playing games, but perhaps not if - like AFC Darwen - you are playing four times in less than 96 hours.

After last night's trip to Wigan Robin Park, the fifth-placed Salmoners travel to Northwich Flixton Villa tonight, host Atherton Collieries on Friday night (7.45pm) and then round off an action-packed week away at Cheadle on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).


But it all begins again on Monday, when they entertain Holker Old Boys, before facing Atherton Collieries in the Reusch First Division Cup final on Thursday at Bootle FC.

It is no mean feat at the best of times, particularly when manager Nick Lloyd is trying to juggle important fixtures for his club with his day - or rather night - job.

But with AFC Darwen pushing for the play-offs there is pressure on each game.

"We want to win them all and get in the play-offs," said Lloyd. "We're more than capable of achieving it.

"There'll be another two games to go then, but we won't mind that.

"But it is a big ask to get through these fixtures this week."

As such, Lloyd has added his voice to the increasing calls for midweek fixtures to be played at the start of the season - when the weather is generally warmer and dryer - rather than wait for the onset of winter and cause a backlog in the latter part of the season.

"Our midweek games don't start until October, which is ridiculous," said the AFC Darwen boss. "They should start from the word go.

"I can live with Tuesday-Wednesday, it's the Friday night-Saturday afternoon one that gets me. It's not even 24 hours!

"According to the league there is no alternative. As much as you can jump up and shout about it you've got to get on with it. They are the ones who ultimately decide.

"I don't think the season should start any earlier - the North West Counties League starts quite early anyway. But I think playing Saturday-midweek-Saturday straight away would solve a problem."

There is little AFC Darwen can do to ease the situation now though, apart from ease off training.

"We've just got to wrap the players in cotton wool," said Lloyd.

"We had a rest night on Monday because of the games coming so thick and fast. We won't train again until next week now."

Lloyd, a truck driver for Asda stores in the north west, has had to manage his work schedule just as carefully as his players.

"I worked on Monday night, I was off last night, tonight I'll go to work straight after the game - starting at 11pm and finishing between 9am and 10am on Thursday morning," he explained.

"I'm off on Thursday night and I've booked the night off on Friday.

"It's pointless whinging about it. We just have to make sure that at the end of it we're in the play-offs."