Club reporter Liam Drury spoke to First Team Manager Marc McGregor to get his thoughts on the past month, the slight change in system played as well as looking ahead to February.
The past month’s been a lot better for you. You’ve won two, drawn two and lost one. How would you assess that month?
I don’t think that we’ve played any differently to usual, we’ve just got that little rub of the green that we’ve deserved. Over the past month, you look at the way we played and not the results, then it was exactly the same as December. We’ve just had that fortunate bit of luck when we cross that white line when getting those points.
You’ve changed your system slightly by getting the No.10 closer to the No.9 and moving Marlon Jackson out to the left. What did you change, to start picking up the results?
We looked at our shape, both in possession and out of possession, and we’ve changed it slightly over those games prior to it. It does take time to get used to it, but now we look more of a threat and we look more solid at the back. We’ve still got players that when they’re playing in that role to protect the back four, they still want to go out and win the ball and drive forward. It’s stuff that we’ve got to work on because they’re hungry to do well, which can leave us a bit exposed at times, but overall I’m pleased and if we carry on that form, then there’ll be no problems for us.
Are you surprised by how quickly the lads have adapted to the change in system?
No, because we work on it and that’s the important thing. One thing about the lads is that they aren’t stupid, they are intelligent, and as soon as we put a new formation in front of them and things like set plays, they usually take it on board and they have done that so I’m really pleased with how they’ve taken on the new formation. It gives us another way of playing, and I might revert back to another formation, but this one seems to be working at the moment but it all depends on the personnel we’ve got available.
Against Gloucester, the team scored all three goals from headers. Is that something you’ve always wanted to work on, seeing as it hasn’t been the side’s strongest point in recent times?
Not so much headers, but getting balls into the box. Our quality especially in the first six months of the season, we would do everything brilliantly up until the final third and then a cross would go out of play or it wouldn’t beat the first man. As soon as you put a decent cross into the box, they have to defend it or we get an opportunity to score and that’s what’s been happening. We worked on that for quite a bit as a group, and I’m really pleased that the lads are getting the recognition they deserve.
Tom Harrison’s come into the side during the past month, and he seems to have adapted well at this level. How do you feel he’s done so far?
There was a lot of talk about Tom and I could have taken him a month or two earlier, but I hadn’t seen him play. It’s a big step up from where he was playing before, but I managed to see him up against Watford U23s and since he’s come in, I think that he’s done brilliantly. It’s a really good learning curve for him, and he’s part of the reason why we’re on a good run of form.
Is that a loan you’ll be looking to extend?
Will you be looking to extend it until the end of the season?
All my negotiations for loanees will be for the end of the season now because we want players who want to be at the club for that period, who want to help us be successful like we have been over the last five games.
In regards to transfers, the EFL transfer window is now shut. Will that make it easier to get in any players that you may need?
It’ll definitely be easier but the player that we’re going for is that experience, that Football League experience, and there’s two or three that we’re chatting to. They’re obviously waiting for that Football League club. There’s one I’m chatting to tonight (Thursday evening), he’s out of contract so he’s got a little bit longer. He’s waiting to hear from two league clubs, and if we doesn’t get them, then he’s going to come and play for us. So fingers crossed, we’ll get the right ones in that we need however if we don’t, we’ll continue on this run of form that we’ve got with these players because they’re good enough to definitely get us out of the situation that we’re in currently and they’ve proved it over the last five games.
Would you say that it’s definitely positive in regards to the centre-back coming in?
It might be a centre-back, it might be a right-back. As what you can see at the moment, Alex Byrne’s done brilliantly at right-back, two centre-halfs in Aaron and Tom, who’s done superb but we’ve also got Jake Lee who can play in there and we’ve got Popey (Jason Pope) coming back so are we desperate?! I would probably say no, but is it something we want to strengthen?! Yes, because if I can get a stronger squad, then it puts us in a really good position heading towards the end of the season.
Jason Pope and Jarrad Welch are making their way back from injury. Are you looking to bed them in slowly?
Yes, Jarrad needs fitness work and there’s no surprise there that he needs to work on his fitness. Popey needs a little bit longer rest. Every time he trains, he feels it (groin) and I don’t want to bring him straight back in, him to redo it and then to not have him for the rest of the season. That would be a stupid thing to do, and I’m not willing to do that.
Would you put a timescale on when either could be back on the pitch again?
I’m hoping that Jarrad could maybe play a part this weekend, and then Popey maybe a week Saturday or two weeks.
In regards to playing Popey, would you be willing to split up a relatively solid back-line which has done well in the past few weeks?
Nope. If you’re playing well, you play. Regardless of whether Jason’s got a good reputation, which he has and he’s done well for us, if you’re playing well, you’re going to play for Weston-super-Mare. That’s all I’m interested in. Once you put on the shirt and you step across the white line and you perform, you deserve to perform the week after.
Eli Phipps has now come back into the starting XI these past few weeks. How do you think he’s done?
He’s done well. He again needs fitness and until the lads start to realise that you need to work away from the club as much as you do here, it’s going to be a reality check for a few of them. But the one thing you need to remember is that technically he’s a good footballer, he’s a very good finisher, but there’s more to football than just technical and you need to be able to put a shift in for the side. It is something that he’s working on though because he’s an honest kid and he will do.
Ben Swallow’s recently gone on loan to Merthyr Town. Have you got any updates on his progression there?
He’s not quite started. He’s come off the bench and he’s someone that we wanted to go and get games and get his confidence up because he can beat players. We’re monitoring it and hopefully he can come back once he’s got his start and he earns his right to stay in the side, then he’ll be an invaluable asset to us. But at the moment, the lads who are starting here are doing superb and he’s got a long way to go until he breaks his way back into the side.
Another player out on loan, George Morris-Edwards, it hasn’t gone his way out on loan at Melksham. Are you going to reassess his situation in the next month?
We can’t call him back until his time’s up, George needs to go and play games, and if you’re not playing for Melksham, it makes it really tough to come and knock on my door and say that I should be playing here. He might get an opportunity in the Somerset Cup, that’ll give him a good opportunity to get some minutes under his belt but we’ll assess that and see what players are fit at the time.
Could George find himself out at a Western League level team in the next few months?
Potentially. He needs to play games, he’s a young kid. There’s no good in him coming and sitting on the bench for us, it won’t do his development any good, so we hope to aid with that when he comes back.
Looking ahead to the next month, you’ve got St Albans, Wealdstone, Woking and Chippenham. How hard a month is it for you?
It’s as hard as the month we’ve just had. I don’t see any month as being easy, Slough are probably one of the better footballing sides and we beat them. We’ve beaten Gloucester, and in all honesty, the two draws that we had, we could have won both of those away from home. We’ve got to take positives from the fact that we could have been sat with four wins but unfortunately, we’re only sat with two. We can beat anyone on our day, yes it is a tough month but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.
Are you starting to panic a bit as games run out, or are you as composed as ever?
Nope, no panic. I think others need to panic before us, and I think that’s what will happen. I think that the other teams in our area of the table will be hoping that other teams put in good performances against their competitors. We don’t want any freebies, we don’t expect any freebies, and we just expect that it’ll be a competitive run-in to the end of the season.