How’s training been this week since the defeat at Barrow?
The lads had a couple of days off, just on the amount of football that’s been played, they needed it I think, from a psychological point of view as physical. Training has been good and I think the players know, based on meetings, that they let themselves down on Saturday, in every part of the game. We’ll be looking for a reaction from that really.
What’s the key to making sure you avoid another bad day at the office?
We don’t want another defeat and we have to show a reaction, but if you take the emotion out of the game at Barrow, that’s our worst performance in 27 games. That’s what we said to the players. You look at football this season and it has been different. Liverpool are probably the best team in Europe at the minute and they had seven stuck on them at Aston Villa. There have been moments this season because of the relentlessness of the league and we are asking the same players to go again and again and again and you do get the odd blip. We have 27 league games to go and I’d take one bad performance in the next 27 league games. We’ve been beaten in other games, but I don’t think we’ve been beaten by a better team. Saturday was the first time we deserved to get beaten, so that’s the thing we are looking for – can we get back to what we do. Bolton I thought the performance was okay. That’s the way to get beaten if you are going to get beaten, so bigger picture thinking is, let’s get back to what we do and I’ll take one bad performance in 27.
Can you use it and say the players owe you a performance and the badge a performance?
They don’t owe me a performance. The players know they’ve let themselves down and they are as disappointed as anybody. It’s very rarely a player walks off the pitch after a defeat, 3-0 against a team who had only won two games all season, and thinks ‘I was all right the rest of them were rubbish’ . They don’t owe me, they owe themselves a performance. They need to get back to what we are and what we have been in the last two years. That’s what we will be looking for against Stevenage, another team who are struggling and we don’t know what they are going to be or who they are going to play, formation wise, because they’ve not played since December 12. We don’t know who will be available for them. They’ll be trying their hardest to win the game and affect the game in the way that they want to, but ultimately we need to get back to what we do.
You mention Stevenage’s problems. How hard has it been to scout them on that basis?
It’s the same for everyone, but we can’t send anyone to any games at the minute. It’s all off WyScout, video clips of games and it almost makes it easier for us because we don’t know what they are going to do, who is available or not available. Depending on who is available and what formation they play, it focuses more on ourselves. We’ll probably know when they had the team sheet in and if we don’t know, we will know within two minutes of the game starting, so that’s when it’s up to the players. We’ll give them the information and they need to work out how to beat them because we are looking for a reaction and we need to win the game.
The way Cheltenham adapt against opponents, how easy is it to get those messages on?
It’s not easy, but the players know. I can tell the players now as we walk out for training, we are playing against a 4-4-2 and they should know where their starting positions should be. That’s the same if it’s against a diamond, a 4-3-3, 3-5-2, it’s just little tweaks in their starting positions. It’s all right knowing it, but executing it is the difficult part because you have 11 people trying to stop you doing what you do. The players do know in terms of when we get the team sheet and their shape, they’ll know how to do it, but executing it is not so simple.
Do you get the players in on Christmas Day?
No, the players will be off. We’ve done it for the last two years. They’ll be expected to go for a run and they’ll have their GPS units as you’d expect them to do something the day before a game as always, but I think there is a trust within the group. It doesn’t guarantee you any way and I can’t remember what our previous Boxing Day results have been, which probably says they have not been particularly bad or they’d stand out. I think psychologically the players want to spend the day with their family. They are expected to go for a run, eat properly and drink properly. That’s part of the modern day footballer, but the amount of work they’ve been expected to do in such a condensed season, giving them a special day off with their families, you get more back from the players.
Are there any restrictions as to where they can travel?
There are restrictions all over the country so I don’t think they need any more from me. Ultimately they’ll spend it with their families, wherever that is. Some will come back Christmas night I’d imagine, back into their digs to get a decent night’s sleep, but there are enough restrictions without me putting more on them at the minute.
No fans allowed in on Boxing Day due to tier three – how much of a difference does that make?
We’ve done it all season, with a couple of games with 50 per cent of our Covid capacity and then the Bolton game. It’s just disappointing, for the players, supporters and everyone involved. Just when you think there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel it gets taken away from you. It sums up the year in terms of being difficult for everyone, mentally, financially. It’s a case of trying to get on with it. It won’t affect the game in terms of the players are used to it now and it’s become the norm, unfortunately. I think Boxing Day is such a special day in terms of people celebrating Christmas and then go to watch the football with their family. They are not going to be able to do that, so it’s another blow for everyone across the country .
How are the injuries?
Sean Long is now full-time training, so he needs to get match fit now, which is difficult. Conor Thomas is training on a non contact basis, but he’s on the grass. Scott Flinders is still struggling and other than that we are nearly all fit.
Is Scott Flinders still struggling with the impact injury he had in training because you did hope to have him back last week?
Yes, it’s just a bruised bone. We ended up sending him for an X-ray just in case last week. He travelled up to Burnley and did the first part of the training session, but he felt it and wasn’t comfortable in the way he was moving. He has not trained since. Fortunately it’s nothing more than a bruised bone, with the bad injury that he’s had, people might wonder if it’s the same thing and it’s not. It’s just uncomfortable and it was quite a big impact. He can’t train properly so he’s unavailable.
Those previous Boxing Day results were a 3-1 win over MK Dons, who went up and a 1-0 defeat by Plymouth, who also went up, so this is a different type of challenge against a team fighting at the bottom
Yes, I didn’t know the two games, but reflecting now, MK Dons was an excellent performance. Plymouth we were all right and I remember battering them second half, but not scoring a goal. Getting them in or not getting them in on Christmas Day isn’t that definitive. If it was, everyone would have an answer. It’s a personal thing. The challenge is completely different, but we need to affect the game how we have done for pretty much the last two years. It’s the first time there have been a few questions asked of the players and how they respond to that.
Have you been able to have a break with the family this week as well as the players?
I come to work for a rest because when I have days off I get given more jobs! No, it’s not too much of a hardship having to watch loads of football. It is tough and Shaun, our analyst, has watched 117 games of League Two football this year, which is not always easy. But it’s part of the job and why we are in it. It’s no great hardship. The hardest part is you can’t watch games live, so you don’t get a feel for a game when you watch it through a screen and you can’t quite get the ebb and flow, but ultimately you have to crack on. We are fortunate to be paid to do something I love. It is stressful, but that’s part of it. Last week you spend two days of your life and get a really poor performance and sometimes wonder what’s the point, but there is always another game and another chance to react properly.
How pleased have you been with the way Wade Elliott has settled into the backroom team since joining as a coach?
It was an easy one for me and I know Wade really well, his personality and what he’d be and he’s been exactly what I thought. He is knowledgeable, experienced and he has an opinion, which as a player used to annoy me sometimes, but as a manager I really like. He is not backwards in coming forwards, but there is knowledge behind it so he backs it up with evidence and with proper thoughts. He’s good and most of the lads seem to like him. They definitely respect him for what he’s done, but the whole what you did in your career, the players see through that in a couple of days. So it might carry some kudos for a week but players soon see through whether you know what you are talking about or not and they have seen Wade for what he is. He’s good at what he does and passionate. He’s a different personality to me, which is another reason why I wanted to bring him in because I don’t want everyone to agree with me and say I’m right all the time because I’m not. It’s impossible for anyone to be right all the time. He’s been excellent.
Tahvon Campbell scored three for Gloucester City on Wednesday night. He is due back on January 2 so could he still come into your thoughts?
We are not in a position to say no to anybody. He’s still got a couple of weeks left and four games, so we’ll see how he does. It’s great that he scored a hat-trick and he’s been a little bit in and out and not started all the games, so we’ll see how the rest of his time there goes. It’s the same with Alex Addai at Maidenhead, he’s been in and out there a bit. We want them to come back fitter and ultimately if they are fitter, they have an opportunity to impact our games.
Tom Chamberlain and Callum Ebanks have gone to Alvechurch on loan, but their game last weekend was off. How hard has it been to get young lads experience with what’s happening in non-league football at the moment?
There is only the National League and the National League North and South so that limits someone like Max Harris’ options, although he won’t be going out at the minute because of what’s happened with Scott. It limits the opportunities because we want them to get minutes, but they need to want them as well. The Alvechurch game, I think they are playing a mini league in a friendly so that could be a chance to get Chambo and Callum some minutes in men’s football because you are always trying to pitch them against where are they at, how are they improving. There is not a lot of training so it’s not easy to assess where they’re at without 11 v 11s in training. We don’t do much big sided football due to all the recovery work. It’s a balancing act and it is tough to try and give people the right opportunities to impress.
Has there been any interest in any of your players as things stand?
No. I am not on social media, but as far as I am aware, I’ve not heard anything. The team have just slipped to fourth in the league, so it doesn’t surprise me if there are people interested in our players because they are performing well. That’s a by-product of doing well. If we keep doing well, people will look at our players and players will be linked with other moves. Ultimately it’s about doing well for us. If you keep doing well for us, you might help yourself get a move and doing well for Cheltenham. That’s always the case. There are 26 players, 26 agendas and 26 individuals, but ultimately, the group is more important than any one individual and any one player who wants to get a move, they have to do well. Just keep moving forward.