With results having picked up and with things starting to look much healthier in terms of the league table, new manager Chris Beech headed into the January 2020 transfer window with one signing [Elliot Watt] already sorted, and a tsunami of activity about to follow.
Such was the amount of work done [16 ins and outs in total] that chairman Andrew Jenkins took to his programme notes to confirm that it was the busiest transfer period he could remember from all of his 60 years with the club.
Picking up the story of his first window with the Blues, the gaffer said: “January was very important.
“The club backed what I wanted to do as much as they could, and that’s fantastic because it gives you another chance to progress what you’ve started.
“It was an extremely challenging period because it was a high number of transactions, but they were all done with a purpose.
“The other thing at that stage was that it was still early in terms of me doing my new job, and we had a talent like Jarrad Brathwaite who we all wanted to utilise, but suddenly he’s taken off us because his potential had been identified by others.
“That happens and you can’t stop it, it’s football, and absolutely the right thing to do is let him go. But what you can’t escape is that it makes your job as the manager harder, because it’s then about what you need to do to deal with losing a player you were planning to develop and utilise.
“Things like that are challenging because the nature of the window means you only get a short time to react. That’s why you have to try to be in front of it, and that’s why there was a massive recruitment drive which started almost from the moment I came through the door.
“Aaron signed a new contract as part of it all, which was a boost, but there was a difficult situation with the boys we had on loan and who were fixed in to us for the season. A couple of them weren’t really going to make us any better, in my opinion, so we had to shift things to try to make space so that we could bring other loans in.
“I was meeting people like Elliot Watt on my day off, on the way back from away games and things like that, and this is before the window opened so that we could try to add to the quality levels we already had within the group.
“With the players already in the building we had got much better at not getting beat, so the next step was to move up another gear and start winning games.”
“Thankfully we won enough to climb away from the bottom of the table,” he continued. “The gap was up to 20 points before lockdown closed everything down.
“I remember people were even talking about an outside shout at a play-off spot if we could get going again, but when I looked at it I think we’d have had to win every game we had left to play to achieve that.
“I’m as optimistic as anybody, but there has to be realism as well. It was frustrating to head into that period of no football, but so many people received worse news than not being able to play a game, so you have to keep it all in perspective.”
The lockdown eventually brought confirmation of the news everybody had already realised long before the official announcement was made – that the 2019/20 season was over – and that immediately brought a switch in focus to planning, preparing and building for the start of 20/21, whenever that may be.
“Being away from the match routine meant we were able to work very hard at the recruitment we needed to do for the new season,” he told us. “It wasn’t just me doing that, we had a group of people doing the work and it was about getting everyone to have the same target and end-goals.
“David Holdsworth then works very hard at looking after the club on the financial side of that, and that was so difficult to do when the pandemic meant we had no revenue at all coming into the club. That threw all sorts of conundrums up and we had to get past them all.
“It’s the same as I’ve already spoken about. I’ve told our players this season that you never hear of a brain surgeon panicking when he’s got to make a big call, so whatever is happening in front of you stay calm, deal with it and make sure you can adapt to find answers.
“That’s how we approached our recruitment, with absolutely no sense of rush or panic. It’d be great to have pots of cash, five pitches outside your front door and all of the things some big clubs have but, if you don’t have it, find another way of succeeding by making the best of what you do have.
“That’s why what I will keep doing is to try to create a culture and environment that has growth, opportunity and a bit of business sense in it as well.”
“Look, whatever happened with recruitment, or however well we prepared, or whatever it is any of us do in this business, it’s all done against the backdrop of nobody actually cares about any of it if you lose games,” he insisted.
“Whatever your barriers or challenges, it all comes down to winning. That’s why you have to analyse why you win a game as much as you look at why you lose one. Identifying things that work is just as important as ironing out the things that don’t.
“You’ve heard me say a few times that you have to have a plan behind the plan. That’s why you look at how you get today’s three points, but always with an eye on how you develop tomorrow’s three points as well.”
Amongst the recruitment activity was the work to be done with the players in the dressing room, with some risks to be taken ahead of the arrival of new faces at the start of 2021.
“There were some gambles along the way, there always is,” he admitted. “Aaron was a gamble when I first brought him into the team, because he hadn’t really had the opportunity until then.
“But that’s when you have to back your judgement and your coaching knowledge. With him he wants to defend, he wants to put his body on the line and he’s got a humble human quality to him that makes him so reliable and relatable.
“I just saw something I thought would help us along. Jon Mellish is the same. I’ve spoken honestly to say that he was going to be released as a central defender, and he knows that. I looked at what he did well and I wanted to see if he could add anything by doing it further forward, and not while he was in the back four. He took to it and he’s the one who has made it less of a gamble.
“Somebody like Byron, that’s just a good, experienced player who was flatlining because he wasn’t quite doing what he normally does, or achieving what he wanted to achieve. He was very good in terms of helping us to move away from the relegation zone, so it was another situation where I just needed to make it work.”
“The biggest aspect of being a manager is developing the environment and culture of a club,” he commented. “There must be a winning mentality, there must be an opportunity for development and growth, and even the top clubs will build on the youth system if they can’t buy the answer.
“Sir Alex Ferguson evolved all the time and he’d often get rid of a player who his fans would think was right for the club, and on top of his game, because the player’s opinion had become more prominent than his performances.
“He was excellent at getting that right, and that’s why that team did what they did for all of those years.”
The final part of our look back at Chris Beech’s first year with the club will be on the official website later today.