Bobby, what a result. It was a game where both sides had their chances, yet we were more clinical. It seems to me like that’s one of the most important things for a manager.
You say that, I think they only had a 15-minute spell, and that was right at the start of the game, where we were adjusting to the tricky conditions. It may not have looked like it from the outside, but the pitch was an absolute swamp. I knew we would need to defend for our lives at that stage. That’s why I brought Charlie back, to give us an extra man whilst defending set pieces. For those 15 minutes, I thought the lads defended really well. After that, we controlled the game.
You mentioned the tough conditions. Malachi especially seemed to exert himself, despite the weather. How are he, and the rest of the lads, holding up?
There were a few bruises and sore legs, but they recovered and they trained hard last night. Now, we’re looking forward to playing Dartford. As I’ve said for a few weeks now, things look like they’re turning around. Not just with results, but with how everyone in training is showing belief and commitment. We’re also playing great football, enough to get plaudits from Taunton the other night, who are themselves a great footballing side.
With the conditions, I think this all shows that we are getting better at managing games. If you adapt to any situation you will win more games, and, on the night, we adapted better than they did.
Is adapting to every game key to finishing a league campaign strongly?
You have to adapt, because a lot of teams drop off at this stage. For us, we do a lot of work behind-the-scenes. Last night, we were gearing towards how to beat Dartford, another difficult away game. But, we’re enjoying that, and, when you’re winning and playing well, the bruises and knocks heal a lot quicker than when you’re not. That’s a sign of us wanting to play. We’re a hungry team. Ezio and Keelan played for the under-23s. That shows their level of commitment.
I’ll go back to Malachi for just a second. He made his first start, and, I thought, offered a unique presence upfront. He’s as strong as an ox, isn’t he?
He dominated the Taunton players physically. Unfortunately, I had to bring him off with 10 minutes to go, but he was a pleasure to watch. He brought two sides off the game. He could hold it up and get into good areas, and he created a lot of space for Brandon and Harry, which is what we’d been working on before the game.
That’s why I had been chasing him for about five or six weeks before he came. We did a shrewd bit of business to get him at the club, and I’m really pleased to have him amongst the lads. He’s been a credit since he came in. He’s not yet at the level of fitness that we need him to be, but we’re doing extra work with him to get him in top shape.
Another player I want to give credit to is Olu, a bit of an unsung hero. He’s been the glue in the midfield.
He is an unsung hero. I call him ‘the glue’ because he holds the team together and complements our style of play. He is an experienced holding midfielder who can play and do the dirty work. When we have the forwards that we do, and they’re in the final third, we need to make sure we defend if we give the ball away, and he does that very well.
He also holds the team shape well, which you have to do in this league, because otherwise you can get destroyed by good players.
It seems like that in every good side, you need an Olu as well as a Brandon.
Yes, although I don’t like to focus on individuals, even if I’m proud of the way that people like Brandon or Harry are playing. I feel like Gerard deserves a lot of credit too. His handling and kicking in those tough conditions were phenomenal. We’ve made sure to get extra training in for him after his injury. He works his socks off at his day job, before coming here and training really hard.
Overall, everyone is going to another level. Not just because of the result, but because we’re all really enjoying our football. We might not win tomorrow, but we’ve enjoyed preparing for the game, so we’ve given ourselves a chance to win.
The most pleasing thing for me is that I can see that, on the pitch, every player knows exactly what to do.
That’s the manager’s job. I need to make sure everyone knows their role on the pitch. It won’t always go according to plan, but it will most of the time if you keep working hard. That’s why, as I just said, everyone is going to another level. I’m really hoping that we’re all building for next year and the year after, at least. With players like Leo, I don’t just want him for this season. I want him at the club long-term.
You’ve spoken a lot about each game just being the next, but now it truly feels like this is the case. We’re playing like a team who can beat anyone.
A motto of mine is always that it’s always just the next game. You can be happy one week but sad the next. We’ve just got back-to-back wins with two clean sheets, which means we must be doing something right. But, that can all change tomorrow, which would take us back to the drawing board.
With this league, it’s so demanding, especially with travel, that we have to prepare and recover better than everyone else. We’re competing with some real giants.
But for all our progress, this will still be a difficult game against a Dartford side who have a lot to offer on paper. They haven’t played for nearly 2 weeks. They’ll be looking to get back on track.
Let’s get one thing right. Dartford are underachieving. They should be much higher than where they are. They’ve got some great players and beautiful facilities. They’ve sacked Alan Dowson and Tony Burman will be their caretaker boss tomorrow, so they will be desperate to impress. We’ll be facing a club coming off the back of a tough situation, so we’ve got to go there and challenge them in every department. Hopefully, we will burst their bubble.
But, we need to remember that teams are now talking about us, and about how powerful we are. That’s nice to hear, after we started this season as relegation favourites as a brand new squad, right from scratch.
Does this show just how far we’ve come this season? We’re competing against some really established sides with a brand new squad.
It does. The last couple of seasons, we haven’t competed because we were rock bottom, but now that’s changing. As a manager, I’m always looking upwards. It’s never about where we are right now. It’s about where we could be in the future. Right now, it really looks like we’re going somewhere. If we can keep this squad together, think about where we will be in a few years time.
As always, what has been the key message going into tomorrow’s game?
We’ve got to go there and make sure we start fast, because they will start fast. We need to match them, like we did at Taunton. For the first 15 minutes we need to be relentless, and not concede an early goal.