Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
So how is the team shaping up after pre-season? In the words of Whitney Houston: it’s not right, but it’s okay.
Of course, drawing conclusions from pre-season is a mug’s game. For reasons I’ll reveal in a bit, this year that’s truer than ever.
You should watch friendlies with a completely different perspective, if indeed you have to watch them at all. The result and, to a great extent, the performance are essentially irrelevant. The sole purpose of these games is to get to the first day of the season in top condition.
Well, we’ve reached that point now, and it’s nearly time to draw a conclusion. But not quite. Give me another month and I’ll tell you exactly how pre-season went. If we start the season well then it was brilliant; if we start badly, it was awful.
At least that’s usually the case, but this summer has been different from any I’ve previously seen. Gary Mills has not only been gelling together a brand new squad but he’s also introduced them to a very specific way of playing.
I’m thrilled to see that Mills is our manager. The football and results Gateshead and York achieved under him were impressive, but his possession-based style of football takes time to bed in. That’s why at the moment we’re not right but we’re okay: it will take time for the squad to fully assimilate to such a demanding approach.
That’s why he’s selected a remarkably settled eleven throughout pre-season. He’s had to familiarise his first choice players with the system, so they’ve already got quite a few miles on the clock.
The necessity to inculcate an understanding of this different way of playing is reflected in Mills’ results at his previous clubs. When he’s started afresh in a new place he has tended to begin slowly but once the team settles it flies.
He was appointed boss at York in October 2010 with the club sixteenth and managed just one win in his first five matches. Then they clicked, winning four in a row and finishing eighth, two wins short of the play-offs, having lost just once at home under Mills, conceding 10 in 16 home games. The next season they were promoted and won the FA Trophy
Two seasons ago at Gateshead he started his first season by losing his first four games, and it wasn’t until the sixth that he registered his first win. Over the course of the first nine games of the season he managed just seven points, at an average of 0.78 per match. Yet by the end of the campaign they were third in the table, having earned 1.93 points per game in the remainder of the season. That would have earned them ninety points if they’d sustained it throughout the campaign.
That’s why we need to be patient as we overcome our final teething problems and understand that any early hitches are just part of a process.
After all, in Mills we trust.