How was the international break?
I think there’s probably two sides of looking at it. We were obviously in a decent vein of form and started to build a little bit of momentum, but equally we were going to be without important players. Also, it’s been fairly demanding of the players from day one of pre-season, with everything that’s went on at the club, it’s quite intense.
It was an opportunity that you don’t get many of in this league, to have a little bit of a breather. I wouldn’t like too many of them because we don’t want to disrupt the flow too much and also, we don’t want a back-load of fixtures down the line.
On having a game in-hand...
It’s the nature of this league. I’m sure most managers will always say that points on the board is better than games in-hand. However, on the flip side of that, we know that if we can win that game in-hand whenever it comes around and we continue as we are at the moment, it propels us back upwards again.
It was one of those weekends that happens, those teams that have had a good season to date all had good results on Saturday. But, we go into an important week knowing that if we continue in the manner of the performances that we have done and keep producing positive results then we’re going to stay at least where we are and hopefully then progress upwards again.
On any injuries from returning international players...
The difference now with the internationals is that they’re so spread over a number of days, particularly with the Nations League format.
Jon McLaughlin was first back, it was almost a race to see who gets back, but he was first back because Scotland obviously played their second fixture on Sunday. Tom Flanagan only joined back in with us today because Northern Ireland played in Bosnia on Tuesday night and Bryan has only travelled back to the UK this morning because he played on Wednesday night.
The ones I’ve seen are all back healthy, including Bali in that as well. He was back today training with us and Bryan has played a couple of games, but obviously he’s suspended anyway.
They’re all fit and healthy, it’s just been a bit fragmented not just last week but this week in terms of the numbers because these lads have still been travelling back from international duty as well.
On back-to-back away games...
Yeah and we’ve had that already this season, the two in London spring to mind and that is challenging. Logistically, these two are a bit easier travelling wise, but two tough games.
They all are for us and I know I keep repeating myself with it, but particularly with the attendance that we’ll take to both matches again. Selling out our allocation is an outstanding show of loyalty, but as always, it brings a greater intensity to the game and creates that almost cup-tie environment.
Bradford pre-break was another brilliant example of it, everybody that was there would probably comment on how intense the atmosphere.
So, expect that Saturday to begin with and obviously Tuesday when it comes around.
On the atmosphere influencing more red cards...
Well, I would always have said this previously as well, but I would take Max’s first red card out of that because I would still argue that I wasn’t convinced, and we did appeal it. When I’ve seen other instances this season, I think that’s one that could go either way and it is an attempt to play the ball. The other two are difficult to defend and I’ve already said that.
There is a fine line, not just between the intensity of the game, but also as a group of players who are genuinely desperate to bring success back to the club.
They feel that responsibility and they carry it, it’s just setting that balance all of the time with that driving you on and it not manifesting itself in any moments of ill-discipline.
You’re right to point it out, I do think that the intensity of the game has increased because of that. Not just in the behaviour of our players, but also opposition players.
I think you can see the intensity and the manner of how they’re going about their business is reflected in the atmosphere.
Well, I think naturally when they played so well for large parts of last season and got so close to achieving promotion that there’s going to be a little bit of a hangover from that.
But, they had the challenge of obviously losing Paul to Ipswich and losing important players as well. So, there was a certain element of rebuilding and I think for John and the new squad he’s built, it does take time, it isn’t easy.
We faced that here for very different reasons, but even more so, probably.
So, I think they’ll be frustrated that they have managed to quite continue that momentum from last season, but equally they’re still a good side. They proved that with the success they had last year over the course of the season. I mentioned earlier, but it’s another difficult game for us, every single game is.
There’s never a game that I look at and believe it’s going to be easier than the one we’ve just faced.
Did you pay any attention to League One last season?
It depends on how much you’re obsessed with football, I suppose.
As much as my focus and work was always immersed in the league I was working in. I’ve always had a healthy interest in football, so my interest in what’s going on at other clubs has always been there.
So, I was aware of Shrewsbury’s season last year. I was aware of not only the success that the manager was having and how much he became attractive to other teams as he ended up going to Ipswich, but some of their players as well. Then you add in the familiar players like Greg Docherty who is obviously on loan from Rangers, at Shrewsbury.
We know that to expect, the fact that we’re going to a good stadium, a big pitch, these things are helpful for us. I’m looking forward to going to another venue where I haven’t been, a lot of these places I’m going to, although Bradford I was aware of the stadium and it’s one of those stadiums that I don’t think you appreciate how good it is until you’re in it and it lends itself to really good football matches as well.
So, certainly going to another new venue on Saturday is exciting.
On the importance of the fans at away games...
Not just because of results, but sometimes it’s just been the manner of our performance in the face of some of the adversity that we’ve had for different reasons.
It does help, undoubtedly it helps because anytime people come and watch us both home and away, there’s a financial commitment, a time commitment that should always be appreciated.
Also, because of where we’re located geographically in the country, it means that every time we go to an away game there is a decent amount of travelling involved with it.
So, the appreciation should always be there whether we win or lose the game. Naturally though, the mutual appreciate is obviously there if you’ve had a positive result or a positive performance.
It’s been good and beneficial that we’ve been able to have those moments this year, where we’re away from home and we’ve produced performances and results in front of big travelling support.
They then feel rewarded for their efforts and commitment they’ve shown.
On being the biggest opponent for teams in League One...
I do feel as if, I wouldn’t say completely unique position because I know there’re other big clubs in this league who will take big travelling support, particularly if they continue to do well. Portsmouth and Barnsley, I’d imagine they’ll continue to take big support and I know there’s others out with that who aren’t having good seasons, but we do face that every single time we go away from home.
I’ve seen it countless times this season where by home fans have come out in bigger numbers and have certainly really backed the home team as well. The previous Saturday against Bradford was a good example, I think they had close to 20,000 in the stadium, big home support. A home support that even though they were a goal down, were still very much with their players because they respond to the challenge of us having 2, 3, 4, 5,000 thousand fans in their stadium. Every support probably responds to that.
We are facing it, I think we’re getting better at it though. I think we’re getting better at realising that challenge is there and responding to it. It’s enjoyable, it makes every single one of these games have a real buzz about it and Saturday will be no different I’d imagine.
On players returning from injury...
The only one who is back available who wasn’t previously, is Lynden. So, Lynden Gooch has trained all week, we believed that would be the case and he’s trained really well, so he’s back fully fit and available.
Glenn Loovens will train next week, but still unavailable for this weekend, certainly get close to full training. Duncan Watmore has had a week of full training with me this week, with no exceptions, so he’s done every single thing we’ve done, which is brilliant. Still obviously too soon for him in terms of games.
Charlie and Denver have still got a bit to go, but they’re making progress. Donald Love is back training as well, he was another one, the same as Lynden, who had been out. We’re getting there, the suspension skews it a little bit, Bryan and Max not being available means we’re still relying on Benji and Bali to supplement the squad.
That’s not a bad thing in terms of their ability, but they’re still very young.
On Duncan Watmore...
He’s getting ever closer. The one thing that I did way back when I first came in here, he was one of the first players I met because he was one of the few that were in here over the summer and I get on well with him and we had good chats and continue to do that.
I did stress to him that there was a duty of care, not just from me but from the club because he’s had two. To have those injuries so close, we never put a time frame on it and I think that’s helped him. He’s so positive about where he’s at, at the moment. He’s a very positive individual anyway, but there are genuine reasons for him to be that way because he’s progressed really well, and his knee is in a really good place.
I’ve never put a time frame on it, but it will be soon. Once he gets past that milestone again, then he gets every closer to obviously being involved with us. It will very much be sooner rather than later and certainly from what I’ve seen of him this week again, when he does come back with us he’ll be in a good place.
He’s trained really well, feels good and that will be the next one for him, this week has been another week to tick off. When that game comes around, if it’s only a little bit of a game then starting games with the Under 23’s then there will be other ones to tick off on his way to a full recovery.