Reuben Reid’s 70th minute header from a Will Boyle cross secured a 1-0 win for Cheltenham Town at Newport County AFC in their opening EFL Trophy group match of the season. On the back of their 1-0 victory at Peterborough United in the Carabao Cup first round on Saturday, this is the first time the Robins have started a season with successive wins since 2006/07. The result at Rodney Parade also netted them £8,000 in prize money. Here is what manager Michael Duff had to say after the final whistle…
Is two 1-0 wins away from home the perfect preparation for the new League Two season?
Yes, I thought it was a good game. Sometimes these types of games are low key and a bit slow, but I thought it was a really good game, with a real intensity to it. We asked the lads who played to do exactly what we did on Saturday in terms of intensity and mentality and they delivered it. It’s a tough place to come at any time and you know what you are going to get with Flynny (Mike Flynn, Newport boss). They had some younger players and we had some younger players, but it was a good game of football.
Do you think playing the two cup games before the start of the League Two season could become a regular thing?
No. We have used it as pre-season, but you are having to use games that are sometimes valuable monetary wise as pre-season games. We’ve come through both games luckily, but ideally you have a longer season and if it isn’t broken, don’t mend it. I think the season works quite well as it always has done, so I don’t think we’ll see cup games being used as pre-season games again.
What has been the most pleasing thing about the two wins, is it the 1-0 scorelines, or the fact you have given game time to 21 different players?
I think there have been lots and lots of positives. I am not bothered about results in pre-season, but performances look after results. So I have been more interested in the two performances than the results. I am a firm believer that if you deliver that all the time, results look after themselves. It’s nice to win, but it’s more physicality, mentality and determination of the group, which has been good and stitching performances together. Pre-season is six weeks and a lot of work goes into it. It’s broken up into little bits, so we’ve managed to put all those bits together in two 90 minutes and that’s probably the most pleasing thing.
You gave debuts to Matty Blair and Elliot Bonds. Were their early exits pre-planned?
Yes, they were always going to play 45 minutes and an hour respectively. We were always going to go to a back four in the second half. We played the full repertoire tonight. Blairy showed what he is and the one thing we haven’t done a lot of so far is working against a back four and we’ll be doing more of that now ahead of Morecambe. When the wing-back releases off the winger and goes to get the full-back and when he does that, what the centre forwards do to react off that, because we have played against a back three a lot. Most teams we play against seem to be a back three, so that’s just little tweaks of starting positions and it’s good that Blairy got a little idea of that. We had a chat about it at half-time even though we knew we were changing our shape. It’s a learning tool. We spent five minutes talking at half-time about something we were going to change anyway to get the information in. Elliot is a good player as well, with good physicality and he can handle the ball, so he can be a big player for us this year.
Was the change of formation something you have wanted to do to make the team familiar with different ways of playing?
It’s getting the time to get the work into them. You have got to get them fit, then it’s getting the way we play sorted. We do have a way of playing and we don’t generally come away from it, but in the last 10 minutes on Saturday we flipped to a 4-3-3. When teams are chasing a game, they’ll stick three up front against the centre-halves and just miss out centre midfield. A lot of the time we’ll just push Toze (Ben Tozer) forward one as a front screen and play as a narrow back four. 3-4-3 is something we have looked at and done some work on it.
Grant Horton and Tom Chamberlain both played 90 minutes. How did you think they did?
It’s good for them because of the intensity. Dan Bowry is another one, who has been out on loan but he won’t have played at that sort of intensity. It’s not only the physicality, but the mentality and having to concentrate and make good decisions all the time. I thought the three of them were good. Grant has come in and looked really comfortable. He has that big diagonal in the locker and is a good one v one defender. Chambo is a good footballer, just every now and then he takes a liberty and gets the ball pinched off him. He needs to work on that. Dan is a better player than he was 12 months ago, down to the work we’ve done with him and the work he’s done at Bath as well.
What’s the news on Sean Long’s scan?
I don’t know the exact prognosis, but it doesn’t look good. He could be out for several months. I’ll have to speak to Gav (Crowe) properly, but it’s longer term and he might need surgery. Due to times we are in, it might take longer to get done, so it wasn’t great news.
Does that change what you are looking at in terms of recruitment?
Matty Blair is a right wing-back and he can play in the front three as well. We have Conor (Thomas) as well. We’ll wait and see. Finance and availability dictates people moving out and people moving in. Are we looking for one? We are having a look at people, but we might have to prioritise one position over another at some point.
Apart from Sean Long, has preparation been as you’ve wanted ahead of Saturday?
Apart from Longy, yes. I say it at the start of pre-season and I mean it, results are irrelevant. We didn’t win a game in pre-season last year, but at the start of the season we looked pretty fresh and organised and not too fatigued. Fit, fresh and organised is what you want and people knowing their job. It means nothing if we roll up against Morecambe and lose 3-0. I’d like to think people and the supporters would like to understand we’ll have prepared the same way as we have for all last season and for the two games this week.
Apart from Sean Long and Scott Flinders, is everyone available for selection on Saturday, minutes wise?
Minutes wise, everyone is good. Lewis Freestone has a nasty gash on the inside of his foot. He wasn’t planned to come off. We’ll have to see how that is. Sometimes when you take your boot off it swells up, so we’ll have to see how he is.
A shame about Sean Long, but it was good to see Scott Flinders training hard this week. How is he coming along?
As far as I am aware it’s January, so mid-season yes. It’s good to see Scott on the grass and he did a session and it felt like he had a different pair of legs on because he has worked hard. His is as much trying to get football fit now, as much as the bone healing, then there is the mental side as well, coming out and smothering the ball. It’s been a long, hard road for him.
Josh Griffiths has started with two clean sheets, how pleased have you been with him?
He made one really big save in the second half. He’s not played many games and since the age of 16 or 17 he’s been training with West Brom’s first team, but he hasn’t played a lot of football, which is why he played again today. While that’s happening he’s building a relationship with the players.
Tom Chamberlain, Grant Horton and Callum Ebanks – will they be loaned out, or in and around the first team squad?
We’ll probably look to get them out on loan to start with. They’ll be fringe players so we don’t want them travelling around the country and not getting on the bench or sitting in the stand. We can bring them back when needed and they’ve shown tonight that they can handle it against a League Two team and showed they are capable.
Reuben Reid has a good strike rate when he starts. Do you think he can play most games this season, or will he need to managed in terms of minutes?
Reubs is a goal threat and we’ll have to make those decisions as to whether he can go again. It’s down to form, injuries and those will dictate sometimes. It won’t always be one of the bigger ones, sometimes they’ll play together, sometimes they won’t play at all. That’s a staff decision. They key with Reuben is if he’s fit. He didn’t do pre-season last year so we did have to manage his minutes as he was injured for a long period trying to get fit on the job, which is what we did with Reg (Varney). It’s slightly different now because he’s done a full pre-season so I’d like to think he can go Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday if needed.
Wade Elliott has been doing some fitness work on the pitch after the game…is he thinking of making a playing comeback at 41?
No, he couldn’t defend, he’s all right going forward, but he couldn’t defend! He’s only doing that running because you lot are here. I went for a run this morning when nobody could see me, up Cleeve Hill, which is the best place to watch me run now!