"I'm excited to see this group of players evolve" - Millington on the season so far, injuries and expectations

This time last year, FC Halifax Town were just about finding their feet after making a stumbling start to their season.
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Twelve months on though, and The Shaymen are already well up and running.

Yes, they prematurely crashed out of the FA Cup to lower-league opposition, again. but Town are sixth in the National League and are arguably yet to fully hit their stride.

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"It's hard to say, there's so many things to measure that against," said Chris Millington when asked for his assessment of the season so far.

Chris MillingtonChris Millington
Chris Millington

"I think we've dealt with some of the challenges well - similar to some other teams we've had an awful lot of injuries and change in the starting 11 so I think we've dealt with that challenge really well.

"I think that the new players who came in are starting to show their worth, the lads we brought in are showing what value they're going to be to the club going forward.

"There's some really exciting additions who've come in and started to establish themselves.

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"Our league position is really positive. Of course there are more points we could have picked up but to some degree we've got ourselves over the line in some games where, historically, we might have struggled to get points in.

"So there's an awful lot to be positive about and I'm excited to see this group of players evolve and grow into the second-half of the season and I think they'll just continue to get better and better."

Millington says he is encouraged by the chemistry that is developing in his squad.

"It's taken a little bit of time to establish itself but with the injuries we've had and the number of new players and the number of new, young players we've brought in, it does take time for that chemistry to develop and people to find their feet at the level," he said.

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"We must remember we've got players in who played last season at the level below.

"The potential we're beginning to see in this group is really exciting and something we should look forward to for the second-half of the season."

Millington says he still wants improvements to be made though.

"We want to keep more clean sheets, we want to be even harder to beat, even though that's a strength of our game," he said

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"We want to score more goals, we need to work harder to control possession in games, especially when we take the lead, we need to be cooler and calmer with the ball so we control possession for longer periods in games.

"We want to do everything better but I've no doubt all of those things will improve as we get bodies back from injury and as we continue to build on this recent consistency of selection.

"I think all of those things will show improvement as we move forward.

"Because of the make-up of the group, we're always going to be a club that becomes stronger in the second-half of the season because invariably, we're going to be a club who see a relatively high turnover of players."

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However, Millington says it is "crucial" that such a turnover of players is reduced as much as possible by the club being proactive in tying down out-of-contract players on new deals.

"If we're going to have long-term success we can't just be developing players who then just go on and earn more money elsewhere or play at a higher level elsewhere," he said.

"We need to be a team who bring in exciting, good, young prospects, see their development but then benefit to some degree as they enter the prime years of their career.

"I'm not saying we're going to see the best of every player who comes through the door but the plan is to try and at least see the best of some of the players who come through the door and not lose them just as they're entering their prime."

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As well as losing players who are out-of-contract, Town have invariably also been deprived of players due to injuries in recent seasons, with the current one no exception.

"What we are doing is suffering a lot of impact injuries at the moment," Millington said.

"The serious injuries we've had have largely come from impact; Rob Harker broke a bone in his foot in a tackle in training, Jo Cummings had Milli Alli fall on him in a game and that's how he did his knee, Jack Evans did his ankle in a tackle.

"If we talk about avoidable injuries, in inverted commas, where you're managing load, then maybe Jamie Cooke and Angelo Cappello are the ones we could have managed slightly better but the vast majority of the others are well out of our control and impossible to predict."

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All of which makes Town's enforced break - with no FA Cup involvement this weekend - a welcome one to give a tired and patched-up squad a much-needed breather.

"Physically we're on our knees in terms of player availability, it's clear to see," he said.

"You look at the bench against Hartlepool in particular, Tom Wilson's there in case we get a defender injured, but he, Jimiel Chikukwa and Justin Iwobi, they're the future of the club.

"They're the players who we know will grow into becoming impressive players for Halifax Town in the future, but they're not there yet.

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"So we're pretty threadbare in terms of numbers but this two week break will hopefully help us get one or two players back available for selection."

When the season resumes at Maidenhead next Saturday, Millington feels his side will do so "in as good a position as anyone really" among the promotion pack.

"The league's wide open this year - Chesterfield are the obvious front-runners, Barnet are performing incredibly well," Millington said.

"You've seen the huge increase in spending from other teams who are in and around it, the Altrinchams, the Gatesheads who seem to have vastly increased their spending from the outside looking in.

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"In league position we're then around the Hartlepools, Solihulls, Bromleys, who are powerhouses in comparison to us in financial terms.

"But if you assess us on the pitch, we've not come up against a team who we're scared of yet.

"We've gone into every game believing we can win it, the games we've lost have been by the odd goal except Boreham Wood away, so there's nobody we've played who has absolutely outclassed us.

"We feel we've not come up against anyone yet who we don't feel we can beat on our day.

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"We know we'll improve as the season goes on, we're a young group, we're learning and developing all the time and building those connections and that chemistry.

"So there's a lot to be positive about and a lot to be hopeful for."

Millington says he expects Town to end the season where they are now or higher in the table.

"At the moment, we're there by virtue of the fact we've done well enough to be there and some other teams who you might have expected to be in and around it have slipped away," he said.

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"Come the end of the season, that's where I want us to be and that's what we'll be working hard to make sure we achieve, that we are somewhere within that top seven."

Twelve months on, Millington says progress has been made.

"League position would suggest that, points haul would suggest that, performances at this stage of the season as opposed to this stage last season would suggest there's been an improvement and an evolution," he said.

"We've got to continue to build on that and crucial to the long-term success of the club is how well we manage to retain players when we've helped them develop and establish them as top end National League players.

"So the real challenge for us is how we go forward now in retaining the talent we've developed and that, ultimately, is what our long-term success will hinge upon.

"But there's definitely progression so far and we know what needs to be addressed to make sure we continue in that vein."