Manager on yesterday's result
John Ward was understandably delighted with his team’s performance in the 2-1 victory over Reading at the Memorial Stadium yesterday afternoon and believed his players did well against strong opposition.
He said: “That was the last chance of practice time and it was a good game, they’re Premier League players and they don’t want to come here and get beat. It was set up for us because if we didn’t do it right we’d get beat and we’ve proved that when we are right we’ve got a little bit of quality to our game also.”
The manager believes that the work everyone has put in to pre-season training is a big reason why performances have been good on the pitch: “We’ve had the balls out every single day in training, long gone are the days of cross-country running. We’ve done it every day and have worked at our shape. It’s slightly different from last year but in terms of principle it’s the same.
“The young boys are learning for the first time but people like Lee Brown and Michael Smith have been doing it for 6 months with me and we improved our goal difference last season by keeping that sort of discipline.
“It’s pleasing not only when the boys do it but when they realise they can win games by doing it and they can get their rewards that way. Sometimes when you ask attacking players to defend it’s not in their nature, they’d rather have the ball and attack, but you’ve either got the ball or you haven’t and if you haven’t you’ve got to go and get it back.
“When you’ve got it I’ll give you the last 30 yards of the pitch and for Shaquille and Alefe that’s when they go and take them on. But when we don’t have the football they need to play like I want them to and we'll have a chance.”
At half-time yesterday the manager could see there were areas that needed improving for the second half, something he highlighted to the team: “We said at half-time we were a bit disappointed with our ball retention. We thought we worked hard on our shape and the organisation but I think we got a wee bit excitable when we got the ball back and we misplaced a pass or two instead of keeping it. It’s that decision-making that’s got to be a little bit better for us, can we keep the ball better in an attacking movement? We’ve got to go forwards.
“The second goal particularly was a good passing move – passing and moving and positive going forward. We’ve got to do it for 46 games now.”
Matt Harrold was substituted in the first half but Ward is hopeful that the striker will be fit to start at Exeter City on Saturday.
He said: “Matty was a bit sore but in general terms he’s probably one of the fittest boys in the football club. Riding a bike and running 20 miles a day he can do no problem but twisting, turning and trying to beat big centre halves is a different situation. He hasn’t been doing that for 9 months so it’s a question of that type of fitness coming.
“He had a little bit of tightening around the groin area simply because of the hard pitches and he wanted to play today. We just felt that if we left him any longer we’d lose him for next Saturday but he should be fine with another half hour under his belt.”
Ward was, however, very pleased with Harrold’s replacement Mitch Harding, who showed good touches throughout his time on the pitch: “He’ll have a heavy touch every now and again but he’s got a lot of good touches in him and he keeps going. These supporters support that: he’s a local boy, he plays for us and he wears the shirt with a lot of pride. Some days it will bounce around off him but then other days he’ll be effective. Either way he’s a troublesome centre forward for centre backs.”
Ward thinks that the recent results at Clevedon Town and yesterday against Reading have stood the players in good stead for the beginning of the new season in 5 days time.
He said: “The young boys got a lovely result at Clevedon which will have lifted them up and some have them have got a few minutes against a top team and top players so bring it on, we’re ready.
“We’ve got injuries, everybody knows that, but I’ve not grumbled about it. John-Joe has given the place a lift and we think we’ve got through the day without any further problems.
“If we keep trying to improve our performance we can hopefully get some decent results and then improve the squad as players come back fit.”