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.
Do things feel different to you? They do to me.
I don’t want to go too far down that old clichéd road which ends with platitudes about how the start of the season being a time to be optimistic, not least because a voice in my head is bellowing “Once bitten, twice shy!”
Remember what we were feeling this time last year? There was that start of the season optimism, married to the hope that a new manager would be able to bring fresh impetus to the club. And we won three of our first four games of last season, don’t forget! But mingled in with it all was a nagging suspicion that we were kidding ourselves.
We were desperate for success, clinging onto the hope that Kevin Wilkin was the man to take us back to the Promised Land. But deep down we knew it wasn’t going to pan out that way.
On the face of it, the situation we find ourselves in today is similar to where we were a year ago. But there’s a crucial difference. This time the new manager has a track record which suggests we should have faith in what he’s doing.
That’s not simply because he’s already taken an ex-Football League club back up to where it came from. Gary Mills has a philosophy. There’s a picture in his head of how he wants his teams to play which, married to his depth of experience, made me comfortable with his decisions as he dismantled and rebuilt the squad. He knew what sort of players he requires, knew the capabilities of player he has tracked for a long time or worked with previously, and therefore had a vision for how each member of the squad will be deployed.
That vision is incorporated in the boldest approach any manager at Conference level has exhibited since we dropped to non-league football. Mills’ side play the sort of possession football you simply wouldn’t associate with fifth division footballers. His success, both aesthetically and in terms of results, is based on good coaching, clear concepts of play and an ability to give players the confidence to back their ability and express themselves.
And here’s the exciting bit. I said in my first column of the season that it would take time for his ideas to bed in and the side to be fully ready. That was clear against Bromley and Torquay when we played well in patches but didn’t sustain it for ninety minutes. The way we destroyed Aldershot was a real step up in sustained quality, but our failure to control the game against a ten-man Kidderminster side who were down to ten men suggested we’re not quite there yet. I hope I’m right, because that’s an exciting thought. Imagine if the standard we set last Saturday wasn’t us at our best!
I used to look forward to Wrexham’s games against Mills’ side with some relish, as they always offered fascinating tactical conundrums for Wrexham to solve. Now I get to watch his side play every week, and see how the opponents look to counter our passing game. There’s reason to relish the coming campaign right there: watching Mills set his team up from scratch to pass the opposition to death will be a fascinating process.