Three months on and it was time to sit down with Eastleigh boss and former Barnet, Gillingham and Dagenham striker Ben Strevens and find out how the Spitfires season was panning out. As per usual this will go across two blogs, so grab a cuppa, sit down and have a read the thoughts and views of a National League manager:
TK: Since we last sat down in October/November, form was good until the end of last year, 4 pts off the play-offs but now transformed to 5 pts off the relegation zone, can you put your finger on why?
BS: Yeh, it’s the nature of the league being so close, its very results based, win two and you head up towards the play-offs, lose two and you drift back down again. We had four away games and for two of them especially at Hartlepool we literally went with just 11 fit players, such a bad time with injuries, especially to our defenders over the course of the season, Reda Johnson played over 30 games for me last season, has only completed 6 or 7 games this season culminating in him leaving the football club this weekend, Alex Wynter who missed only one or two games last year has been absent pretty much all season, he’s had such a bad run of injuries and then Michael Green whose been our starting left back has missed the last three months, so from the group of players I had last season three out of the back five have been missing more often than not. You can’t carry too many players in those positions, at left back we were lucky that one or two can cover that position, Cav Miley and Joe Partington, but that turned into three months and in hindsight we probably should have got someone in on loan, the defensive area has just been a nightmare.
It’s been tough, it’s been hard to keep the boys positive with some of the line-up’s we’ve had to put out and players playing out of position often but hopefully we’re through the worst of it now, well we’re hoping anyway! We just need to pick up a few results now and head back in the right direction, I look at Dover who have just picked up a couple of results and now are just outside the play-offs, that’s what we’re looking to do and then the picture changes again.
TK: I think I put the goal scoring kiss of death on Danny Hollands as he’s only scored twice since I mentioned his form! Do you think other teams have paid him more attention than before?
BS: I don’t know, I just think you go through spells especially as midfielders, I mean he’s on ten goals now.
TK: That’s a great return for a midfielder so far.
BS: I know, I mean I haven’t looked at the stats for the league but I bet there aren’t many if any central midfielders that have scored more than ten goals this season, Rooney plays a little bit deeper for Barrow and takes their free kicks and penalties too, without being bad to Dutchy taking his play off goal out of the equation he managed one goal last year! We were looking to add goals from our midfield this year and when I was looking, I didn’t particularly think it would be Danny Hollands because he did a lot of the defensive side of things this year but signing Jack Payne has allowed him to get further forward and I’m pretty sure he’s going to get a couple more before the season ends.
TK: Having struggled to score a bit during January, do you think that increased the pressure on the defence to keep clean sheets?
BS: Maybe yeah, but with that period we should have done better in the attacking third of the pitch, I think the Chesterfield game we put 49 crosses into the box with 27 efforts at goal. That day we didn’t score, switched off and conceded then we’re chasing the game which puts more pressure on the defence. But in fairness to the boys we had two or three playing out of position once again so if I’m being honest during the period we would have to have scored two or three goals a game to give the back line a chance and that’s nothing against any of the lads I had playing in those games, just the nature of what we had and could use. It was a tough run of game too, four out of five away including Hartlepool on a Tuesday night but overall we’ve created enough chances to score goals this season, Tyrone Barnett has ten goals, Scott Rendell is close to double figures and Danny’s contribution too, but you know last year we had someone who scored 27 goals and the teams that do well in this league have one of those guys.
TK: How difficult is it to keep your beliefs when things aren’t quite going the way you plan?
BS: It is tough, after the Chesterfield game we played so well exactly how I wanted us to play and we didn’t get the result I wanted but I still felt quite positive and believed after the game if we played like that then we would win games of football. We played the same way a week later at Maidenhead, but we were nowhere near good enough and lost 2-0. We didn’t create anywhere near as many chances but missed three good one-on-one efforts. So, against Aldershot the following Tuesday night I did go against my beliefs and set us up with four at the back, very defensive minded, solid base, we ended up drawing 0-0 and I’ve gotta be honest I hated every minute of the game! I said to Jason afterwards I’d rather do everything my way on how I want to play football and if results don’t come then I’ll take it on the chin. I felt a lot worse drawing 0-0 than I did losing at home to Chesterfield even though we got one more point out of the game.
The next game was Woking away and I said we’re going back to exactly that, we played really well and were 2-0 up at half time and no disrespect to Woking if we had been on a run of winning games we would have scored three or four, but credit to the boys they maintained themselves second half to win the game. Hard when you’re losing games to keep doing what you want to do but if you’re strong in your beliefs and the players believe in you then it will come good, if they question you and the way it’s going then it’s a different story. They know how I want to play and what is our strongest formation and we’ve looked more like that the last couple of games.
TK: Looking ahead to March, a lot of games away from home during the month, is the aim now to get to 50 pts as quickly as possible?
BS: Yeh I think anyone who is around those places will be thinking that, I speak to people all the time, Hessy (Andy Hessenthaler) last week and he was like we want to get to that mark. I think given the nature of the league this year to get to that first target and then evaluate after that, I hope we do that in three games time. There are some good teams down in that area that can go on runs, I think anyone from us upwards to the middle table area are thinking the same thing, there are a couple who will be thinking we don’t want to be slipping down the wrong way and there are a few teams I expect to climb, I didn’t expect Wrexham to be down there, it’s tough to get a run of wins together this year so credit to anyone who manages it. It’s no different this year to last year either, our aim was to get to the 50 point marker and then see what we needed to get in and around the play-offs, so yeah we want to get there as quick as possible now.