This is the second part of a two part blog, my latest sit down interview with Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens:
TK: Are you still surprised to see the likes of Fylde, Chesterfield and Wrexham still deep in trouble?
BS: I am yeah just because of the players they have in their groups, if you had told me at the start of the season three of the teams that would be in the play-off come the end most managers and not just me would have said those teams. Fylde in my opinion have been the best footballing team over the last two seasons, it was always really tough going to their place so I thought they would be there or thereabouts. We played against Wrexham in the eliminator last season and we knew a lot about the boys in their group, lots of ex Forest Green and Grimsby so that was surprising to see them struggle at the start of the season.
And Chesterfield of course. When John Sheridan came in after Martin (Allen) their form at the back end of last season gave everyone the intention that they were going to kick on this year. It’s the league this season though, not being disrespectful to teams like Woking but you wouldn’t have expected to see the likes of them up the top end of the table or even Halifax so I think it just goes to show there are fine lines within this league, there are some good squads that people probably don’t give enough credit to, Maidenhead were often talked about being in a relegation battle, but every time you go there you know you’re gonna get a game, Dev (Alan Devonshire) knows the level as well as anyone, its just hard whoever you play.
I still think Chesterfield will put a run together and Fylde have enough good attacking players to get themselves out of it, it’ll be interesting to see their results over the next few weeks but yeh definitely a surprise to see those three down there.
TK: Have there been any players or clubs who have impressed you this season?
BS: Yeah there are, I’ve got to be honest Boreham Wood are a good side, they struggled massively last year in a relegation battle and eventually finished one place outside of it, they’ve added a bit of pace, the boy Tshimanga up front who a few sides looked at including us, maybe should have taken a punt on him but Boreham Wood did so credit to them. They also got in Tyrone Marsh who won the league with Macclesfield, the two games against them and I’m saying this after picking up four points from those games we beat them 2-0 here and then we went there not so long ago and drew 2-2 with the last kick of the game from Tyrone Barnett they were very good that day. Their right back, Kane Smith, missed all of or most of the season last time out with injury is I think the best right back in the league.
Barrow, I think you can’t look past them and admire what they’re doing there. We played them very early in the season and then you wouldn’t have said they were going to be where they are now. Their form and some of the wins they’ve put together, winning 7-0 twice that’s the sign of a team that goes on and wins the league.
I think Notts County will make the play-off picture, as we were talking earlier I expect Barnet to be in there, the squad Darren (Currie) has and now signing Paul McCallum they’ve got a very good chance, you’ve got Halifax who’ve been doing it all season so credit to them. There’s always going to be one who comes out of the pack, like a Dover or a Barnet, bit like we did last year.
It’s a bit hard to pick out a player, but someone like (Scott) Quigley for the goals he’s scored, I liked him at Wrexham last year when he played against us.
TK: Would you say its Barrow’s title to lose or is there a surprise to come in the next 10 weeks?
BS: I think if we had had this conversation six weeks ago, I would have said someone else might do it but with their form and results no. I thought Yeovil had gotten themselves into a position to challenge and I still expected Solihull to come strong, Harrogate though have been on a very good run and got themselves close but I wouldn’t look at anyone else other than Barrow. The difference between the crowd levels from when we played them second or third game to watching the highlights now there’s a bounce there within the club, so I can’t look beyond them to win it.
TK: What will Paul McCallum bring to Barnet other than goals?
BS: Nothing haha! No, I’m only joking! He’s a great lad Macca, he’ll visit the treatment room, he needs a bit of tender loving, he’ll bring a confidence around the place, got on well with the boys here. His hold up and link play will bring in the likes of (Simeon) Akinola and (Josh) Walker but his aerial ability is the best in the league, if the crosses come in with quality on them there’s not anyone else I’d have to get on the end of them. We ourselves have got Tyrone Barnett who can do exactly the same.
Last year Macca got almost twenty of those goals with his head, I know the Barnet fans are going to like him, I’m surprised it didn’t work out at Solihull, he phoned me for a bit of advice at the time. I was expecting him to go into the league, but the deal to take him north was very, very good. So I was surprised when he phoned to say he’d been told it was best for him to move on, I think he’d still scored 11 goals in 23 games, were they expecting more, for him to take them to the next level, I don’t know. He missed a few games when maybe they thought he might have been ok to play, I’m not sure, just really surprised it didn’t work out for him, but I’m sure Darren will get the best out of him.
TK: How soon do you start to plan for next season?
BS: It’s already underway yeah, you have to be. The change in squads and players from one year to next can be huge, as I mentioned to you earlier, we’ve got only 2 players currently playing from the side that featured in the play-offs. Jason and I are already out watching games, making lists of who we play against, players we like the look of, and I know we won’t be any different from other managers in this list or League Two. We’re scouring the lower leagues to see if there are any hidden gems we can unearth.
This season we took Sam Smart from Basingstoke Town and he’s done brilliant for us, we got Rob Atkinson from Fulham U21’s and obviously ended up selling him six months later to Oxford Utd. It doesn’t matter who you are in this league, you’ve got to be looking for them. Peterborough are a great example for doing that kind of thing, they almost agreed a deal for Rob whilst they were completing for Jack Taylor, who I thought was the best young midfielder in the league at the time, but it couldn’t be agreed and off he went to Oxford.
We have him back on loan until the end of the season so he can continue his development, but they can call him back at any point. I firmly believe Oxford will end up selling him on higher in a couple of years, I think he is the best young defender in this league, same goes for Taylor, I liked him at Barnet and when he played against us he scored a heck of a goal.
I expect Smith and Tshimanga at Boreham Wood to be looked at by league clubs come the end of the season too, so there are plenty to be found out there, you just have to keep looking. Sometimes you have to take a chance, you watch a player but he might not look able to step up, John Still was and is great for that with young players, he gave me my chance at Wingate & Finchley so occasionally you have to take that punt and work with it.
My thanks to Ben for being as accessible as earlier in the season, there will be a final interview once the season ends in April.