FC Halifax Town: Assistant boss Millington on his and Wild’s blueprint for success

Pete Wild (left) and Chris Millington. Photo: Darren Murphy/Matchday Shots
Pete Wild (left) and Chris Millington. Photo: Darren Murphy/Matchday Shots

Chris Millington admits there was “nothing to write home about” during his time as a player - but is hoping his coaching career is a different story.

Town’s assistant manager was a midfielder by trade and was briefly at Manchester City as a youngster before spells at York, Crewe and local clubs in his native Manchester.

But after his playing days fizzled out, a spark was lit on a coaching course recommended by a friend, and he has never looked back since.

“From day one, I loved it,” he recalled. “I loved being around the game, being around the tactical side of the game and understanding motivation, the way teams are structured and the way they play.

“As a player it was very much turn up, put your boots on and get on with it.

“Now I spend more time preparing and as much time reflecting and evaluating as I do coaching in sessions, and observing games.”

Millington’s coaching career began with Altrincham’s under 18’s before working at Stockport County’s Centre of Excellence.

He then briefly worked abroad in Croatia - “a lot of what they do conflicts with how we would see the game being coached, so it was interesting to see how they got results doing it a different way” - before joining up with Pete Wild at Oldham.

“We met when we were doing our A-Licence together about 2011, 2012, so we spent quite a lot of time together doing that,” said Millington.

“Then we stayed in touch, and at the end of 2012, I came back from doing a bit of coaching abroad and was working at Oldham where Pete had been for a number of years, and that’s when we really started working closely together.”

What were his first impressions of the Halifax boss?

“Hard-working. He’s pretty easy to read is Pete, and I’d like to think people think the same about me in that we’re quite open, quite honest.

“If he’s got something to say, he’ll say it. He doesn’t try to send cryptic messages, he’ll tell you if something needs saying, but likewise, he’s also quick to pat players on the back and let them know when they’re doing the right things.

“There’s an honesty about his words and his actions.”

Millington feels he and Wild complement each other well, and see the game very similarly.

“I have a good understanding of what he as a manager wants to get out of a team, so I think I see a lot of it the same way,” Millington said. “And I think we’ve both got the ability to dole out some harsh truths when required.

“I think the only time we really need to do that is when players aren’t working as hard as they should do.

“If players are working hard and they’re not succeeding for another reason, then that’s either a lack of ability in them or a lack of coaching in us that we’ve not taught them properly.

“First and foremost, if they’ve got the work ethic and they’re willing to put a shift in, then they’re very rarely going to hear any harsh words off us.

“If they do that and they fall short, then it’s either something that we’re doing wrong or something that technically they’re not capable of doing yet.

“If something needs saying, we won’t shy away from telling the truth to players when it needs to be told, but likewise, we’re aware that if they are working hard, then the rest of it is down to their technical ability and our coaching skills.”

Having worked together in Oldham’s academy, Wild and Millington were twice handed the first-team reins last season after the departures of Frankie Bunn and then Paul Scholes, winning eight, drawing three and losing six of their 17 games in charge, most notably beating Premier League Fulham away in the FA Cup.

“There’s a certain excitement at working around first-team which I can’t deny is enjoyable,” said Millington. “There’s a certain thrill to playing for three points on a Saturday afternoon.

“But my role (from youth development) doesn’t change a great deal because I want to prepare well tactically, I want the teams I work with to understand what our objectives are in the different moments of a game, and I want to work with players to help make them better, so they can operate more efficiently within the team structure.

“I think the objective of the team is different because winning is less important when you’re working at the developmental ages.

“But I still attach more to performance than result, and I think if you’re working on the basis that you want to perform to the best of your ability week-in, week-out, then the result will generally take care of itself.

“If the performances drop and you nick the odd win, then I come away disappointed.”

Millington says he will take some of the coaching load away from Wild to allow him to focus on managerial duties.

“Both of us like to work with the players and improve lads, and make them better within the team structure,” Millington said.

“But I will really focus on trying to understand where they’re at and what their limitations are, what the areas are that we need them to get better at to be able to fulfill their role in the team.

“But also what their wants are, because if they’ve got something they really believe is going to push them on, then we want to help them with that.

“That is something that I’ll spend more time focusing on so that Pete can focus on the more managerial side of picking a team, dealing with media issues and making sure the structure runs properly.

“Sometimes you just work well with people. There’s a relationship that just worked from day one in that Pete will take care of things that as a manager he can oversee and can put structures in place and manage those things from a team perspective and a back-room perspective.

“I have a good understanding of what he’s trying to achieve, and I’m quite good at process, so I get involved in going ‘right well, if that’s what we’re trying to achieve, then I’ll help our centre-mids, or our strikers, or our full-backs be able to achieve that more efficiently’.

“Pete’s an accomplished coach so he’s more than capable of doing that as well, but I think it’s good for him to have me in the background because, without sounding big-headed, I understand what he wants and when he’s not got time to get to that, he knows I’m there working away trying to achieve it.”

Millington says he shies away from the word philosophy, but says he and Wild adopt a realistic and pragmatic approach.

“We understand that clean sheets win titles, and goals win games,” he said.

“We want to be a team that’s hard to beat. We want to be a team that’s effective in both boxes, but we also understand that controlling possession and having a good counter-attacking philosophy will help you achieve those two ends.

“If we’re effective in what we do, and we’ve all got a clear understanding of our structure between the two boxes, then we increase the chances of our teams being effective in both boxes.

“I shy away a bit from the word ‘philosophy’, but what I do believe is we’ve got a good model of how we want to play, which when we’ve got possession and we’re dominating teams, has an objective. And when we’re maybe not having quite as much controlled possession, we can still control a game without the ball with the purpose of counter-attacking effectively.

“We have a very clear model of how we want to play in those different moments, and that’s what all our work on the training ground goes into.

“We’re starting to see some aspects of that. Once we’ve got another two or three weeks’ work into the lads, I’d expect to see much more cohesiveness between those different moments.”

One eye-catching change has been Town’s pre-match huddle after their warm-up, involving every member of the squad and backroom staff.

“It’s markers on the journey of a matchday,” said Millington. “It’s making sure that we as a group recognise that when we arrive in the changing room, what that signifies, when we come out to warm-up, what that is about, why we’re doing it.

“At the end of the warm-up there’s the huddle, which is part of that process, understanding that now we’re moving into a really serious part of the afternoon.

“For the fans, I hope it has some benefit for them, but more importantly, for the players, that they recognise that ‘right, we’re moving from the warm-up, for which there’s a purpose behind it, to prepare us for the game, but now we’re at the end of the preparation and we’re beginning the process of being competitive’.

“We do try and have as much player involvement as possible in what we’re trying to do, and as the weeks go by, the lads will have more input into how things are structured.

“But we believe there are certain things that are very important in preparing the mind and the body to go and compete, and you’ll see different sides of that, and hopefully it’ll start to make more sense to the people watching as we go forward.”

When asked what Halifax fans can expect from their team this season, Millington said: “A solid defensive structure, competitive, we want hard workers. We work hard, and we want lads who are going to work hard out on the pitch.

“We want people who, regardless of mistakes and errors, react well. So whether themselves or a team-mate has made a mistake, their reaction is positive and it’s quick.

“We don’t want anything to do with any kind of blame culture.

“There’ll be certain matches and certain parts of matches where we’ll expect to be solid defensively with a view to winning the ball back in certain areas to counter-attack, and there’ll be times when we want to get a few minutes possession in the opposition half, and make them work to get it back, and try to create opportunities.

“Progressive possession is what we talk about the most, whether that’s quick progressive possession to get up the pitch to exploit the opposition being out of balance, or whether that’s good progressive possession because they’re in behind the ball and we want to work opportunities.

“It’s not rocket science, it’s about having that identity of what we want to achieve and the real work is done away from the matchday where we try and prepare the team.

“I can hand-on-heart say that everything we do on the training ground is geared towards what we want the match to look like on a Saturday or a Tuesday.

“It doesn’t always look exactly how we want it to, but as long as we see certain indicators and progression, then we’ll always take that going forward.”