FC Halifax Town: “I think we’ll carry more threat going forward” - Millington assesses The Shaymen ahead of the new season
Assistant manager Chris Millington is confident FC Halifax Town will be better in some key areas this season.
The Shaymen are still finalising their squad, having brought in five players already, while attempting to offset the departures of Jake Hyde, Jeff King, Neill Byrne and Jack Earing.
The wait to complete their squad, combined with having two friendlies called off, means it has been a challenging pre-season for Town.
But Millington is pleased with how preparations have been going ahead of Saturday’s opening game against Maidenhead.
“In some respects, very happy,” he said. “I think the lads have got a real clear understanding of how we’re approaching the season in terms of playing style.
“I think there’s a clear identity in and out of possession that’s starting to come out, and I think we’ve demonstrated a level of fitness that means we’re ready for the start of the season.”
On the friendly cancellations due to Covid, which saw games against Fylde and a Sheffield United XI called off, Millington said: “That has been a challenge and it’s one that a lot of clubs have had to deal with, so we’re not on our own.
“But it’s made it difficult to make sure that players have all got their levels of match fitness, it’s been a challenge to make sure there’s a comprehensive understanding of roles and responsibilities, with the slight tweaks in shape and our style of play this season.
“It has thrown up some real challenges, but all it’s done is make us work harder at understanding how we get across our messages and how we get our work into the lads.
“We’ve had to find better ways to get that information across, find better ways to get the minutes into their legs, which we’ve tried to do through having a better approach to our training programme.”
Despite the disruptions, Millington is confident there will be improvements in key areas this season.
“I think we were blessed last year with a really good squad, I think we were very fortunate,” he said.
“What let us down last season was maybe that we lacked a little bit of physical robustness in terms of our ability to see out a full National League season, and with it being shorter, there was more stress on their bodies.
“I think this year we’ve got more athleticism throughout the squad, I think we’ve got a real good level of technical ability, so I’d say our in possession style will be more attractive, I think we’ll carry more threat going forward and I think we’ll have the ability to press teams much more across the park out of possession.
“So in the ways we wanted to be better, I think we will be better, but we’ve certainly said goodbye to some good players, who would improve any squad in the National League, so it’s hard to say that we’re better across the board.
“But in the ways we want to be better, I think we are.”
Millington feels there is plenty of flexibility in the Town squad too.
“I think there’s a little bit more strength-in-depth,” he said. “We always try and recruit players who are specialists in more than one position, who’ve got the ability to play very well in more than one position, and this year you can see that, with the forwards we’ve brought in, with the types of midfielders we’ve got, and the full-backs are very versatile and have the ability to play different positions and in different shapes, which is crucial.
“We want to be a team that can pose opposition teams problems through our style of play, through the speed of our play, but also through the different shapes we feel our lads are capable of playing.”
Town began last season with 3-4-1-2 as their preferred formation, but appear to be starting this campaign with a 4-2-3-1 system, which was used towards the end of the previous season.
“We’ve definitely got the ability to play a four, we’ve got centre-halves who are able to defend and able to play out,” Millington said.
“We’ve got full-backs who are athletic enough to be able to join in the attack and also recover back in when we lose possession.
“So we can play a four but we’ve also got defenders who can play across a back three, so not only have we got players who can play a defensive back three, but we’ve got players who can play, from an offensive perspective, in a back three.
“I think that’s an evolution of where we were at last season. When we played a back three it was generally with the primary objective of being solid defensively, but now we can do that with the primary objective of being solid defensively, but also having a threat in possession because we’ve got good ball players with really good athleticism.”
The Shaymen were joint fifth-highest goalscorers in the division last season, but Millington says one area identified for improvement has been taking more chances in-front of goal.
“We scored a good number of goals for a National League season, but what we look at now is how we can convert more chances,” he said.
“If we’d had a better conversion rate last season, we’d have scored more and we’d have probably turned a handful of draws into victories.
“If we’d converted more chances we’d have probably won games earlier on, so we wouldn’t have been going into the second-half as much at risk or with games still in the balance.
“That’s definitely one area, but you can look at the opposite side of the coin and say ‘well we scored plenty of goals but we still fell short of a play-off finish’ so that means we also need to be tighter at the back.
“We’ve got to be meaner, we’ve got to be better defending our own box and try to be higher up the league table in terms of goals conceded.
“Those two areas are obviously key indicators for any season, but we think there are some very clear things we can focus our energy on to prevent conceding quite as many, and also convert a few more of the chances we create.”
But Millington says plenty will remain from last season about the team.
“A lot about the style will be very similar, so we want to be a possession-based team, we want to have the ability to get into a good, compact shape and press aggressively from that position of strength, so those parts of the identity will stay,” he said.
“But we think we can be better at those than we were last season.
“Having a number of the lads retained from last season helps us because it gives us a head start that we’re not having to start from scratch and coach them our identity and style of play from scratch.
“So we should be ahead of where we were at this time last year, when we brought in an awful lot of new players and we had to do a lot of work very quickly.
“We should be ahead of where we were two pre-seasons ago when we came in ten days before the beginning of the season and had to build a squad very quickly.
“So we feel we’re starting from a good, solid foundation this season and hopefully there will be one or two more bodies joining the group.
“But we think what we’ve got in the building at the moment is really strong and a group of players who can play the way we want to play.”
And despite big-spenders like Stockport, Wrexham and Chesterfield raising standards in the National League higher than ever, Millington feels Town’s approach can compensate for a lack of resources.
“I would hope that the standards have risen the fact that more money’s being spent, the fact that Football League players are dropping down into teams in the division would suggest that it is going to be better,” he said.
“But it doesn’t always add up to more success for the teams who are spending the money, or bringing in those types of players.
“I think what we’re doing, and the way we approach things, our work ethic, the details we go into, the effort we put in to building appropriate training programmes, the effort we put in to helping the players understand what we believe will be successful, I think has a value and that goes over and above sometimes the pounds and pence that others are spending.
“So I would hope that is reflected in matchday performances, and people see the work ethic, the style of play, the detail we go into and the training programme we built to communicate those things to the players is evident on a matchday and maybe has some more value than just going out and spending more money and bringing in so called big names.”