During pre-season we went away to Germany and Austria. We needed it. Every minute of that trip was vital.
Well, I say that… we didn’t actually win a game.
You could sense there was a bit of nervousness and frustration. Some individuals were there, but you could see they didn’t want to be – their future was elsewhere.
We needed the games to start. That’s what I felt.
In pre-season, you can say what you want. I’ve been in football a long time and heard people talk positively during pre-season because there’s no real results. When things really start – you have proper games, some defeats or maybe some poor performances – that’s when you can start to build some trust. Because that’s when the players see how you react in those situations. Until then, I think everyone’s a bit wary.
I knew that would be the case. I was coming from a place where I was really trusted in what I was doing. Where all my messages had been articulated quite often, so people knew where I was coming from and what I was about.
When you come to a new environment, you have to explain that again. Earn that trust again. That’s what we’ve been doing to different levels – to ownership, leadership at the board, staff, players, supporters – to make sure there’s a real transparency about what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.
It’s part of the process.
“This is it now. No one’s going anywhere. Now it’s about opportunity. Let’s see what we can do”
Our first game of the season was at Bramall Lane. Live on Sky, early on Saturday evening.
If I’m honest, it felt a bit like we were going into the unknown. We were quite fragile from what was not an overly positive pre-season, and there had been movement right up until the last week: players leaving or indicating they were going to leave.
There wasn’t much to enable us to say we were going into the game with any real confidence.
For the first 20 minutes or so, we weathered a bit of a storm. Gradually, we started to grow into the game. When they took the lead in the second half, we brought on Jeff Montero, who had a real influence on the game. With 20 minutes to go, Oli McBurnie scored the equaliser.
As the minutes ticked by, we sensed the need for another technician in the middle of the pitch.
Sometimes you get lucky.
With five minutes to go, we put Yan Dhanda on for his debut. With his first touch, he scored the winning goal.
I suppose that was the start of a process of giving a few players opportunities to start their careers. Which is nice as a coach. It really is.