FC Halifax Town: “We want to dominate the football and be on the front foot” - Town boss Wild on the season ahead
You get the feeling things will be a little different at FC Halifax Town this season.
Not only with supporters finally back on, hopefully, a permanent basis, but after another close season of change at the club.
That’s perhaps not entirely how it was planned. Manager Pete Wild had hoped to retain 95 per cent of his squad, but watched on as Jeff King, Jack Earing, Neill Byrne and Jake Hyde all departed.
Experienced duo Danny Williams and Nathan Clarke also left, but a significant chunk of last season’s squad remains, with nine out-of-contract players signing new deals.
Change, but not wholesale change. Evolution rather than revolution.
Going back to square one after only missing out on the play-offs on the last day of the season would have been unnecessary, but areas for improvement have been earmarked.
“We want to be a more athletic team, which means we’re probably going to be younger, and we want to be a team that dominates the football like we have been in the last couple of years,” said Wild.
“We want to dominate the football and be on the front foot, and I think what we’ve recruited will help that.
“We’ve tried to add quality, we tried to get an identity last year as a group, we’ve managed to keep 85 per cent of the squad, so that identity then continues to build.
“Then it’s about looking at our (performance) model, and recruiting people to fit the model.
“Yes it’s been tough this summer but we’ve tried to do that as much as possible.”
The Town boss admits there have been more changes than anticipated this summer.
“Of course, 95 per cent of them were offered new deals, five have left, another two have been sold,” he said.
“Apart from Dan (Williams) and Reubs (Noble-Lazarus) they were all offered new deals, so there’s been more changes than we thought, but that’s the nature of where we are in the food chain, and that’s always going to happen.
“So what we have to be is pro-active and know where the next one’s coming from, we’ve tried to do that and we’ll continue to be pro-active so we know where the next one is.”
On what would count as a successful season, Wild said: “Progress, on and off the pitch, continue to be attractive to watch, continue to try and punch at the right end of the table, and continue to produce young, good hungry players.”
Does progress mean ending up higher than last season’s 10th placed finish?
“No, I think the tangible outcome is finish in the play-offs, utopia is you win the league,” Wild said.
“But I can’t sit here now and say we’re going to do x, y and z because I’m not in control of that.
“We’re in control of our 44 games and we’ll know that come the middle of May, so it’s about progressing.
“I thought we progressed phenomenally last year but finished lower in the league, so that wouldn’t be what we’d base progression on.”
Another way progress can be measured is other clubs’ perception of Halifax, and their approach to playing The Shaymen.
“I think that’s massively changed now, the way people set-up against us, the way people perceive us,” Wild said.
“A lot of teams sit off us and we’ve got to try and break them down, and that’s a credit to everybody at this football club that we’re now perceived as a team that’s tough to play against, and if you’re not on your A game, you get beat.
“I love that, but that can soon change, so we’ve got to continue to make sure that our football offer, and our tactical bit is right, and if that’s right, then we give ourselves a chance.
“But we’re not fishing in the same pond as others so we have to make young players better and make them ready, which means at times, they’ll make mistakes.
“But we know we’ve got to continue to keep doing the right things.”
Wild says lessons have been learned from last season though.
“We need to convert more chances, fourth top goalscorers in the league, and we need to convert more chances. We create probably more chances than any team in the league, but we don’t convert them, so we need to convert more chances,” he said.
“If you start scoring two and three goals (in a game) the stats will tell you that you win more games.
“And then later in games, we need to manage games better, in terms of we look solid, but we need to be a team that can still attack and break, and not just get bogged into bring compact and ‘come and break us down’.
“So we need to be better in those areas, but we learned a lot of lessons about staying strong last year, about the plan is the plan, stick to the plan.
“One of the biggest lessons we learned last year is that our plan worked last year because we believed in it, and because we continued to train and deliver it, even when there were bumps in the road.
“Let’s be honest, if we’d have picked up three more, six more points in that first nine games, there’d have been a tangible outcome to the end of the season.
“I wouldn’t want to play us, and I think that’s the biggest credit I can give to everybody at this football club now, is that we’re now a team where people go ‘you’ll have to be good to play against them’.”
Wild says any changes in approach from last season to this season are more superficial than deep rooted.
“It’s just sprinkles on the top, tweaks here and there,” he said.
“People get bogged down with shapes and systems, but every shape’s five yards off being a different shape.
“It’s more about our style of play, ensuring our style of play remains and becomes better by being a little bit more forward-thinking defensively and taking our chances.”
One advantage to retaining broadly the same approach is a clear sense of identity that can make it easier in bringing new players to the club.
“It affects recruitment, we bring players in that can play the way we want to play,” Wild said.
“We sell to a player coming in what we are. I don’t think anybody’s got a better sell than us in the league, and rightly so, because we have to have a great sell because that’s what really attracts the player here.
“So we have to know what we’re about, and because we’re relaxed and confident about what we’re about, and because we delivered against what we’re about last year, I’m confident we can do that again.”
Wild says one thing that will be different this season is a greater focus on his team rather than the opposition in preparation for games.
“I think we need to focus more on us than them. I liked the players last year to know everything, the nooks and crannies of every player and every team we played against,” said Wild.
“Whereas I think we need to lean more towards ‘how our style of play will hurt them’ more than ‘they’ll do this, how are we going to combat that’.
“That’s the real big thing that we want to be better at this year.”
When asked how that can be implemented, Wild said: “In what we deliver to the players, in what we deliver on a Thursday and a Friday, having more than an us emphasis than a them emphasis.
“We’ll do that with our analysis and how we behave on a Thursday and a Friday on the training ground.”
The gap between the haves and the have-nots in the National League appears to widening further, with Wrexham and Stockport attracting envious glances from the rest at their financial pulling power.
Town’s place in the food chain has been shown by last season’s top-scorer Hyde being prized away by Wrexham, while Harvey Gilmour, deemed surplus to requirement by Stockport, has arrived at The Shay.
When asked how Halifax can hope to compete with the biggest spenders in the division, Wild said: “Be tactically, technically and physically better than them.
“That’s how we competed last year, and this year will be no different.
“There’s a better standard of player in this league than there’s ever, ever been this season.
“But that doesn’t mean to say that they’re technically, tactically or physically better than us.
“That’s how we’ve kept us the last two years and we’ll continue to do that.
“There’s probably a big eight or ten in terms of financial clout.
“By design, at least five of them will get it wrong, that happens every year.
“When they do get it wrong, we have to be ready to capitalise on that.
“We’ve done that in the last two years, let’s see if we can do that again.”
That’s not to say the task is getting any easier.
“It’s getting more and more difficult, there’s no two ways about that,” said Wild.
“People will perceive me as being negative when I say this, but it is what it is, I have to keep an air of realism about the place.
“What you’ve got to do is back the lads, yes they might make a mistake, but back them.
“Yes other teams might have better players than us, but just back our lads, and don’t get carried away with ‘we should be signing him’ or this that and the other.
“Trust us to produce good, young players.”
Despite the challenges and the changes, Wild is excited about the season ahead.
“It’s been a tough recruitment this summer, but what has really pleased me, and what should please fans, is the style of play we’re trying to do.
“It might not come off every week, the result might not go our way every week, but the way we’re going to try and play, fans will hopefully come away from it and there’s two questions they have to ask themselves, did we try and play the way we want to play, and did we work as hard as we can?
“And if they’re ticks, then results hopefully will take care of themselves more than they don’t.”
So what should Town fans expect this season?
“An exciting brand of football, that’s enjoyable to watch, with a team that works as hard as they can, that meets the values of the town.”