Despite a haul of 15 points from a possible 18 manager Paul Simpson refuses to consider that it’s ‘job done’ with nine games still left to play and with every team in the division having, in theory, something to left to play for.
But what the recent run of form has achieved is a casting of the eye towards next season, and what survival will mean for the club, and for a manager and group of players who are out of contract come the end of the campaign.
“I haven’t looked at the table, but there are enough people around the place who are very willing to tell me what’s going on,” Paul Simpson said. “Obviously I know what the results were on Tuesday, so I know as a fact that Oldham played another game and they didn’t close the gap in any way.
“In this situation it’s Oldham and Scunthorpe we need to worry about right now because they’re the ones in the two bottom positions. They have to win enough games to get out of it.
“That means there’s a possibility that we might not need another win, but who knows. Whatever the situation, we’re here to win games and my focus is on that.
“I want to win the remaining nine, so let’s use that as a starting point. I’ve challenged the players to finish the season as high up the table as we can.
“If the highest we finish is third bottom, fine, we stay up, but I’ll be unhappy because that will mean we’ve had a rubbish run-in.
“We have a job to do, to win games for this club, ourselves and our fans, and that’s what my message will be.
“Let’s ask if we can start to threaten the top half, can we look up instead of down, that’s my approach to all of this.”
“I think it’s really hard to come up with a points target because everyone plays each other,” he added. “I’ve looked back over the history, as I always do, and you can work out how many points are usually needed to stay up, get in the play-offs and go up automatically.
“It generally follows the same trajectory, and usually it’s about 43 points that keeps you up. We need a few more wins at least, if we get two more wins in the next two games then I’ll want a third one, because I’m not going to rest on just staying up.
“We have to be professional, and if we want people to pay money to come and watch us, we have to be professional and do everything right to make sure they go home happy and come back the next time.”
So what about those contract situations - when do they become a factor?
“The honest answer is that it’s never even been talked about,” he told us. “It isn’t something that’s entered my head.
“I’m aware that there are a lot of players out of contract, and that we have loan players who will go home, but at this moment in time my concern is still to make sure that we’re safe in this league.
“The club have decisions to make, and that’s on a lot of things, not just on the football side. I don’t get involved in any of the club matters, and to be honest with you I’m quite happy to not be involved in it.
“It’s actually a bit of a relief that I don’t have to do that. It will, though, make it a mad, frantic dash in the summer if anything was to happen, whether that’s for me or for somebody else.
“There are so many things that need to be sorted, but I’m happy with the way it’s going. The club haven’t sat down and chatted about it either, but it’s no big deal at the moment. I’m cracking on and doing what I’ve been brought in to do.”
“I was asked to come in and see if a change of face would give everyone a change of fortune,” he continued. “So far, that has happened, but I’m not thinking about anything else.
“I’ve said all along that I’ve got a wedding to go to the week after the Bradford game and that’s the only thing in my dairy at the moment. Who knows what’s going to happen.
“I’m really enjoying it, it’s been a great challenge to come back in and get stuck into it. I’ve been so impressed with the staff and the players, and there’s a lot of decisions that need to be made by the club off the grass, then some decisions about how they see it moving forward on the grass as well.
“For me and the players, we’re in a position where we’re auditioning for a job, here or somewhere else. Players are out of contract, loan players will go back to their parent clubs and try to progress again.
“I think as a footballer that’s always the case, and it certainly is as a manager. You’re always three games away from the sack and looking for your next job, so you have to challenge yourself all the time.
“You’ve got to make sure you do everything you possibly can as a coach to prepare the team, then hope they go and perform. As a player, every day is a trial day for you, you’re always trying to do everything you possibly can to impress this football club or another club to keep you involved in the game.”
An obvious and key question to pose comes next - does he want to stay once that ‘job done’ scenario has been achieved?
“Without being awkward, there has to be everything right for me,” he responded. “I can’t afford to put myself in a position in my next job as a manager where the situation isn’t right and I end up sacked in October or November, then I’m struggling to get another job.
“There has to be a lot of things that are right, and we haven’t had that conversation and I don’t know anything about the politics or contracts or budgets. I don’t want to know, I just want to keep focusing on football, and I’ve actually really enjoyed that.
“You have to build a football club as a manager when you’re there long-term. I know clubs have gone away from having a manager, they have a chief exec and a director of football, but I like to be a manager and manage a football club.
“I like to deal with all of the stuff that goes on. I don’t mean I would water myself down and get distracted, but I think you have to have a handle on everything that’s going on.
“This week I’ve probably had a handle on things I wasn’t brought in to do, but I felt it was really important to put a statement out on behalf of the club about the young players.”
“As for what keeps me here, I honestly don’t know,” he said. “The one thing I would say, there needs to be conversations and those conversations haven’t happened.
“I’m not trying to force the conversation because I want to focus on staying up. But there needs to be clarity on where the football club wants to go, there needs to be information on what recruitment would be, what budgets would be, all that sort of stuff.
“What I can’t afford in my position, as somebody who is scrambling trying to get a management job again, I can’t afford to put myself in a position where I let my heart rule my head and take a job, at my home city, and I am putting out fires, and scrambling around trying to get results, and like Chris Beech this season I get the sack in October and then chances are I won’t get another job.
“Things have to be right. There are lot of things that need to be lined up properly. I don’t know anything about the politics of the club apart from what I hear or read about, and I don’t know budgets.
“I’ve enjoyed that freedom of not having to concern myself with that, but I’m really enjoying being back here, really enjoying the work we’ve been doing, I’ve enjoyed working with the backroom staff, really enjoyed working with the players, they’re a good bunch of blokes, and I hope we can finish the season strongly and people will want to talk to me at the end of the season.”
Let’s dig a little further - can he see himself working here into next season and beyond?
“I can see myself working here because I’ve seen it for the last four or five weeks, but I’m not going to sit here and say I am going to be here next season because I don’t know the answer,” he commented.
“Everybody can make presumptions and predictions, but there’s nothing to discuss at the moment. It literally is a case of let’s get on with it.
“15 years ago, however long it was I was here, I got asked a question by the late Derek Lacey, on a Tuesday morning, are you leaving the football club?
“I said I know nothing about me leaving. That afternoon I got a call to say I’ve agreed a deal with Preston for you, you can go and speak to them, and I got accused of telling lies.
“When I got asked the question by Derek I wasn’t telling lies, I did not know about it. That’s how quickly football changes. As I said earlier, if we’re rubbish in these last nine games, things will turn, I totally understand that’s the way football is.
“I’m here to keep us safe, keep us in the Football League. So far it’s gone really well and I really want the nine games to go well. Then if anybody wants to talk to me, we’ll have that conversation and we’ll get on with it.”
“I think I said on the day I came in, there were two things that crossed my mind at that tme,” he explained. “If I go in there and fail, I’ll not get another job.
“But if I don’t take a chance, and jump into something which is a really tough situation, if it works, then I might do myself a real big favour, and I may get an offer here, or somewhere else, that gives me an opportunity to stay in management.
“The one thing I needed to learn was did I really want to do it again, because after the absolute shambles of Stockport County from club and from me, I was unsure whether I did want to work as a manager again.
“Time out of it, working in an academy in Portugal, for the FA, being an assistant at Derby, Newcastle, Bristol, has made me think I can do it and want to do it, and these last few weeks have rekindled that desire to do it.
“Who knows whether I will get another opportunity, I have no idea whether it’s this, somewhere else or some other role. If we have a good last nine games, I don’t think I’ll have done myself any harm whatever comes.”
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