Crawley come to Brunton Park as one of the form teams tomorrow afternoon but manager Keith Millen insisted that it’s about the here and now, and not what might be, or what had already gone.
“I said to the players on Tuesday that I still haven’t mentioned the league table to them since I’ve been at the club,” he said. “It’s always been about the next game, and it still is, but the thing I did say is that we’re now looking up instead of down, which is a good feeling to have.
“I’ve been really on them this week because I’m hearing a lot of praise for the players, rightly so, but you’re only one game away from being not so good again. The word I’m thinking of is complacency, I can’t allow that to creep in and I won’t. The players know that.
“I think the league is pretty even and it’s about teams who have good runs or bad runs. It’s about how long you can continue a good run and try not to have big dips in form.
“Crawley have had three wins on the spin after Covid hit their squad. For whatever reason they’ve changed their shape, maybe because of the players they had available, they’ve gone to a back three and all of a sudden they’ve won those three games.
“You could say they’re one of the form teams with us, but I don’t look at that too much, I just look at each game in isolation. We’ve studied Crawley, and they’re a dangerous team. If we don’t respect them, they will hurt us, so we’ve done plenty of work on them.”
Looking at specific threats, he highlighted the reason behind their recent good results.
“I would say the frontmen, the way they played recently, they tend to almost leave their forwards higher up the pitch and then get it up to them, and they can be dangerous,” he told us. “We’ve got to be really aware of not over-committing because on the break they can hurt you.
“It’s making sure we get the balance right of us doing what we do, and an awareness of what their threats are. From there we have to contain them.
“I know their manager John Yems well, for a long time now, he spent a long time at Bournemouth with Eddie Howe doing different roles. He’s got a long history with Crawley, he’s been scouting, done a lot of jobs in football.
“It’s great to see, he’s been there a while and has done ok for the club. Recently they’re the form team, and they’ve gone to Northampton and won 1-0 when Northampton have been flying.
“That for me shows we cannot lose focus. If they’re going to Northampton and winning they’re doing something right. We have to make sure we’ve got total respect for what they are and they’re a difficult team to read and play against.
“You could say it’s two form teams coming together on Saturday, so hopefully it’ll be a good game.”
Speaking about his own team’s good form, he told us: “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because the idea when I came is was to do what we’ve been doing.
“I’m pleased with where we are compared to the first game at Northampton. It’s been a big turnaround and you’ve got to give the players a lot of credit for that.
“They’ve listened to me and bought into what we’ve been doing. We’ve got a clear identity and that helps the players to believe. I think we’ve played 15 games since I’ve been here and we haven’t changed our shape once.
“We tweak it depending on the opposition but the players have confidence from having that identity. I think Saturday’s game was probably the most complete performance we’ve had so far in respect of we knew what their dangers were, but we also knew what their weaknesses were, and I thought we exposed that really well on Saturday.
“We’ve got to keep improving, but there’s certainly a structure that everyone can believe in. I wouldn’t say the improvement is down to one thing, but if I had to pick something I think it’s clear messages from me to the group in respect of what I want from them in terms of how we play, how we behave and how we train.
“Everything I’ve said to them has been very clear and I think they’ve bought into that. I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, there are some games coming up now which should give us more of an idea on where we are.
“We’ve got Crawley and Hartlepool at home which will be two tough games, then we go to Forest Green and play Sutton who are probably the two main teams in the league at the moment. I think those games will be a good gauge for us to see where we are.
“They are games we’ll look forward to because it gives us chance to test ourselves and see how good we can be, but Crawley is the first game. It’s one of those games where you aren’t quite sure what they’re going to do, which is always a bit of a worry.
“I like to be clear and be able to tell the players what we expect and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Crawley are a team who can beat anyone on their day, and they can have a bad day like most teams. It’s a game which could be a banana skin if we don’t do it right.”
Last weekend also served as an example of what this club can be, with the fans behind the team from the first whistle.
“There’s definitely a different feeling around the place,” he agreed. “When you bump into fans around the city there are a lot of positive comments, you can feel it around the club and the players are very confident.
“It’s a good feeling to have, but I’m very conscious because it can change very quickly, so we’ve got to keep driving forward. There’s no way we’re going to sit back and think we’ve cracked it, because we’re nowhere near that.
“It’s nice to have all the compliments but for me it’s about keeping the lads focused on the next game. If you don’t perform on Saturday, all of a sudden the things you’ve done previously are gone.
“We can’t guarantee we’re going to win on Saturday, but if we perform like we did against Bradford we’ll be a match for anyone. They’re the standards I’m looking for, then we need that bit of quality which helps us to win the game.
“The fans seem to know what we’re trying to do. I can only go by the atmosphere last week, it was the best one without a doubt since I’ve been at the club.
“Bradford had a big following, but our fans really got behind the team. Very positive in the way they were with the team and I think they can recognise what we’re trying to do and how we’re playing.
“I like the fact they appreciate sometimes we’re a patient team in possession. I think that’s really important. If you’re going to try and develop a passing team that keeps possession, the fans understand that.
“I’ve been at clubs where you try to play a passing game and the home fans after five minutes start moaning, ‘get the ball forward’ and all these sort of comments.
“I think the understanding of the fans of what we’re trying to do is so important. It’s down to us to keep producing good performances.
“Hopefully the fans will come and enjoy it and get behind the team like they did on Saturday. There’s a lot of positivity around the place at the moment and it’s my job to try and keep it going that way.”