Business done during the Summer of 2020 has left the Blues with a healthy-looking squad heading into this closed season period, with a group of hungry young players providing a solid base to build from.
Speaking about the group this week, assistant boss Gav Skelton admitted that he’s already looking forward to working them again ahead of the new campaign.
“I am genuinely excited about next season, I’m not just saying the right things there,” he told us. “I look at the squad and write it down and we’ve got a really solid base to build from.
“I’m excited about some of the young ones as well, I think Taylor Charters and Josh Dixon can play a big part next year. They’re both good, young players who are desperate to play their part.
“The rest of the lads are a season on with a bit of experience under their belts. I think it showed as the season went on that we did learn from that difficult period and they really started to grow as people and players.”
Looking back to the start of last season, he commented: “Last year, when we came back for pre-season, it was a mostly new group of players, but we’ve got a real base to start from this year with some good experience.
“You can coach all you want but you can’t put experience into them, so I think certain players will really benefit from that. We spoke to all of the lads at the end of the season and some of them have had really good seasons, but we all feel like there’s still more to come from them.
“The likes of Callum, Joe and Aaron have really grown, and they’re in a really good place now. When you’re a young player, you think you know it all, but when you play with and against experienced teams and players every week, you pick up certain things.
“These lads will have learned so much. Jon Mellish is another good example. He’s got his 16 goals, and you definitely don’t want to take it away from him, but there are certain times in a game when we can’t always go and win it. We might have to sit in and try and nick it, like we did at Orient.
“Experiences like that will help Joe and Callum to say to Jon, look, just sit alongside us for five minutes, let’s stay tight, and things like that. Experience is invaluable for things like this.
“You want energy and legs, but if you can marry the two, which I think these lads will, that’s why I feel so positive about next season.”
Having finished in tenth spot, it goes without saying that next season will bring with it the aim of achieving more improvement.
“I think we can progress and that’s why I feel excited about it all,” he said. “If we can get our recruitment right and build on the experience we’ve got, it’ll be good.
“We had a strong finish, but we’re all really ambitious and positive people and we wanted it to better. Obviously we have to be realistic, and we understand where we’re at, but we want to push on next year.
“Within the coaching staff and players there’s a hunger to do really well. That driving ambition. We’re frustrated this year but there’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves because nobody else does. We feel, with the squad we’ve got and the work going on behind the scenes, and if we can get the ones we’re after, it puts us in a strong place.
“I know I’m repeating myself but we want to be better, we want to be up at the top end of the league because everybody feels better when that’s the case. Talk’s cheap but we have got a strong core and base.”
A solid base includes a fantastic home record, which at one point saw United top the charts for most goals scored on their own patch in the division, as well as having the best points return.
“Our home form was brilliant last year, and I think it showed when we had fans in that we got positive results in all of those games, even though we only had 1,000 or 2,000,” he agreed. “We have to maintain that next year and improve our away form, which we know wasn’t good enough.
“If we want to be successful that has to improve and come closer to matching our excellent home record. As the season went on our away form did improve, we went to Cheltenham and Newport and were disappointed to only come away with a point in those games after two excellent performances against two excellent teams.
“We won at Orient in the last minute, which was something we hadn’t done all season, and they are all good experiences to learn from and take forward. That comes back to the players learning how to deal with expectations and preparing for away games, which I think is a real positive to take into next season.”
“That’s why it’s good that we’ve kept many of them together,” he continued. “If you look at this time last year it was a new squad and results were up and down because of that. We got beat at Oldham, off Fleetwood, Cambridge, but hopefully this year we’re not needing to gel as a team on the job, so to speak.
“We’ve got a strong foundation, and if we can get recruitment right, add to that, and replace what we lose or what goes, it puts us in a stronger position. A team put together quickly, it was going to take time, but when they hit their straps they got on a good run. Hopefully what we’ve done this year puts us in a lot stronger place.”
So with all of that in mind, just how much time will he give himself to relax?
“Honestly, with the gaffer the way he is, I don’t think we even will!” he joked. “There’s still so much to do, but it’s different because we aren’t preparing for games in amongst it all.
“That takes some of the stresses you normally get out of it. I would imagine the staff will have dialogue just about every day, but that’s normal, and we all enjoy what we do so it isn’t a problem at all.”