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MANAGER: We've changed a few things

Keith Millen on his first week with the squad

4 November 2021

A quick peruse of the forecast for this week threw up a series of weather warnings with heavy rain predicted for almost every minute of Sunday and Monday, and that proved to be the case with new manager Keith Millen greeted with a training conundrum as he looked to stage his first post-Northampton session.

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The sustained downpour had left the club’s training pitch in a more than soggy condition, but some cross-border collaboration provided a perfect solution and an unexpected change of scenery for the first-team squad.

“In an ideal world, before I came here, I had all these plans where I’m thinking I’ll do this and do that, but you have to be adaptable,” he explained. “Something I’ve learned over the years is that you have to be adaptable.

“The weather in Sweden could be tough, so every day over there was different. You look at what the best solution is and this week we drove up to Gretna and had a look at the pitch that Gavin [Skelton] had already seen, and it was a brand-new astroturf.

“I just felt a different environment with a lovely surface would give the lads a bit of a lift. They’ve trained really well the last few days and we’ve done all the work we need to do now.

“I’ve told the players to go and relax on Thursday and we’ll get back together on Friday to go through the final little details for Saturday.”

“It has been really good at Gretna and we thank them for helping out,” he continued. “It got us on a nice surface to train on because if you’re going to demand of the players that they try to improve their game, their touch, their standards and their movement, then you have to give them somewhere decent where they can do that.

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“Like I say, hopefully training up there will have lifted the players, it’s somewhere different, and they’ll get benefit from that. I just want to train on the best pitch I can get on, whether it’s grass, astroturf, whatever is the best solution.

“I’ve been around loads of different places already since I’ve been here because if you’re running around on a heavy pitch with puddles on, and I’m shouting at them to improve their touch, quality and movement of the ball, it’s counter-productive.

“The better the surface we can train on will definitely help us improve the players. That’s something I have to deal with on a weekly basis; I’ve realised we have to be flexible in what we do.”

And part of being flexible has resulted in a change to the structure of the training week.

“We’ve trained Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which is slightly different,” he told us. “Usually when we do these three-day blocks it’s about fitness for the players, it isn’t about just running them, but there’s a science behind working for three days in a row.

“I’ve realised that this week the main thing was to get information into them, so I’ve come away a little bit from how much fitness work we’ve done and it’s been more about how much information I can get into them.

“We’ve done a lot of work this week on us in possession because we need to be better, calmer and more purposeful. We need more of an understanding of what we’re trying to do when we have the ball, which might sound silly after conceding three goals last week.

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“When you analyse the goals they were tough to take because overall during the game there wasn’t a lot wrong with the team. That’s what happens when you’re struggling.

“I thought it was a definite foul on Zach [Clough] for the first goal, after that there are things we need to improve on, but it was a free kick. The second goal is a poor goal. The third goal isn’t a penalty, it’s just a poor decision.

“We’ve moved on from that now and I’ve looked at it and looked at what we need to do better. We will hopefully have more possession on Saturday, and we’ve got to be more effective with it.

“I’ve really tried to work with our forward players and getting the best out of them. We’ve got four or maybe five front men, if you like, and we need to get the best out of them as a group.”

“What we saw at Northampton were all the signs of a team who haven’t won many games and are lacking a little bit of confidence and belief,” he added. “They’re all signs I’ve seen before and I wouldn’t expect anything different.

“When you aren’t on a great run and things aren’t going your way, when you go a goal down it has a big impact on you. We’ve got to try and snap out of that, and I’ve got to help them do that. The only way we can do that is by working on the training pitch which we’ve done all week.

“It isn’t going to be perfect in a week, but if there are better signs on Saturday that will hopefully be enough to win the game, then we can start again next week and look to improve again. That’s the way we’ll look to work.

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“It isn’t going to be a quick fix, the way we want to work will take time, but winning games will obviously increase the tempo of the success.”

But have the players started to show a belief in the new messages presented?

“We’ve worked a lot this week, but I wouldn’t say the players have that trust and understanding of what I’m asking from them yet, because we haven’t played a game to put it into practice,” the manager said. “Until you play a game and the things we’ve done work, then you start building that trust and belief in what you’re doing.

“We’ve looked at the players we’ve got and how we can get the best out of them. I’ve spoken to the players individually and asked them what they think their strengths are and what they think they can bring to the team to get them into the starting 11.

“Whatever that is, we’ve got to try and mould the team’s way of playing. I’ve really studied the forward players to look for the best way to get the best out of them, and that’s what we’ve worked on this week.”

“I knew there was a lot of work to do at the club, which is normal, and it’s about working out what you can hopefully try to change and improve as you go on,” he told us. “You can’t change everything within a week, so it’s about looking at what you can do day to day.

“If each day you’re improving the players in some way, and they’re gaining a bit more of an understanding of what you’re trying to do, then it’ll put them in a good frame of mind. They’re a really hard-working and honest group of lads and hopefully I can direct them to a better position.

“Doing things differently during the week is part of helping with that. We’ll revert back to what people may feel is a more normal week if the travelling we do dictates that.

“I’m not stubborn enough to say I don’t care, this is what we’re going to do. If it has an impact on the players, that’s not right. The players know that and they know we’re doing what’s best for all of us.  

“My first week has been non-stop, which I expected. There’s lots to think about and lots to do, and it’s a case of trying to prioritise what’s the most important thing for each day. We picked the bones out of the Northampton performance then came in on Monday to make sure the players understood how I work and how I saw the game.

“There was reflection and we watched the video. We showed some clips of some good stuff and some clips of things we need to work on. That will always be the case, whether we win, lose or draw.

“I don’t change in that respect and it’s never personal with a player, which they understand. It’s important they trust in what I’m saying to them, and know that even when I’m criticising, I’m doing it for the right reasons.”


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