INTERVIEW: I still feel like I'm learning loads

The switch back to central defence for Jon Mellish since the arrival of manager Paul Simpson has seen an already confident player grow in stature once again, with his performances receiving universal praise as he both carries out his defensive duties and lifts the crowd with his surging and penetrative runs forward.

Currently the club’s longest serving player, having joined from non-league in the summer of 2019, the 25-year-old is closing in on 150 appearances in a blue shirt and has achieved almost cult status with the fan base.

“I’m really enjoying my football at the moment,” he told us. “It’s been a good start to the season so far and I’ve enjoyed the position I’m playing.

“I’ve been able to settle in and play every game there, and it’s been good going up to centre midfield during the games sometimes as well.

“Just being able to play every game in that position is good and it feels like I’ve progressed in it. It’s been a bit of a journey in terms of where I’ve played over the past few years.

“Obviously I came here as a centre half, then with Chris Beech I was in midfield and a striker, also with Keith Millen, and thankfully the gaffer has got me back where I want to be in defence.

“I didn’t mind it in midfield, but this is where I want to play. It was quite enjoyable getting the goals, that’s nice, but where I am now in terms of defending and attacking from the back is what I really enjoy.”

And the current back three or back five formation has seen him flourish further, with the team defending and attacking as a unit.

“The formation really suits me,” he agreed. “I don’t mind the back four, but you get the freedom as the left man on the side to be able to step in and I know I can express myself a bit.

“I like to start things from the back whenever I can, as well as defend when it’s needed. I still feel like I’m learning loads as well.

“Hunts [Paul Huntington] is really experienced, he’s a leader, and that’s the same with Morgan Feeney and Corey Whelan. It’s kind of nice having them winning everything and heading the ball because it lets me get forward.

“The manager has spoken to me about it and it’s something he doesn’t want to take away from me. When he pushes me forward it’s because he wants me to do that, but even when I’m in defence he wants me to keep trying it.

“He’s pointed out that people don’t want to track back, so if that’s going to happen it’s another man forward for their defence to deal with and think about.”

With the manager having joked in a recent press conference that, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing, I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing, so how are the opposition supposed to know what he’s doing’ we ventured that his surges were perhaps a little more structured than that.

“I have a laugh with the lads and I say that if I don’t know what I’m doing then it’s harder for the opposition to know what I’m doing,” he commented.

“I sort of just get my head down and I think about the fact that, as a defender myself, if somebody is running at me it’s horrible. I actually think it’s the worst thing.

“That’s why I like to do it. All I do is think that I need to keep running. It’s something I want to add to my game even more, getting forward but making it be more effective.

“I’ve been getting into good positions but now it’s about picking that final pass and being even better with it. I think I could have had more assists, so I do need to work on that part of my game.

“With the way we all played against Doncaster, that type of game was really good for us all. It gives you confidence and I’m probably that type of player where if my confidence is high you can sort of see that.

“I play better when I’m feeling confident, so I hope it continues.”

One moment really stood out in the Donny game when he broke up the play, made the tackle, nonchalantly stood up and watched as if he was a spectator as Jordan Gibson released Jack Stretton for the third goal.

“I think I just gambled on the tackle and by the time I’d tripped myself over I was struggling to get up,” he explained.

“I needed a breather if I’m being honest. I watched Gibbo and Strets and it was good that they finished it off.

“There’s just a real togetherness in the dressing room and we all want each other to do well. Everyone gets on but we’re pushing each other as well.

“A couple of years ago when we were top of the league it was the sort of dressing room we had. At the bottom of the league last year that spirit wasn’t there, so to have it back again is really good.

“That’s what will help us to push on to the next level. When we have a performance like Tuesday night we’re not happy at all and that’s how it should be.

“It means we’re not going to allow anything to slip and straight away everyone is getting on each other’s backs and sorting it out.”

Looking ahead to this weekend, he said: “As soon as we beat Doncaster we started looking forward to this one.

“These are the type of games you want. They’ve had a really good start so if we can put in the same type of performance it’ll mean we’ll be getting closer to them and we can keep climbing the table.

“The fans have been really good, they’ve backed us loads, and they turn up in their numbers. I hope they keep doing that because it pushes us on, especially through that last 10 minutes or so.

“It helps us to keep going, as we saw against Doncaster when we got the late goal to wrap it up. Like I say, we just want to keep going and see where it takes us.”

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