"We're desperate to progress" - Assistant boss Millington on The Shaymen, their evolution and the play-offs

FC Halifax Town's play-off campaign is the culmination of three years' hard work, vision and preparation from Pete Wild and Chris Millington.

By Tom Scargill
Friday, 20th May 2022, 9:32 am
Updated Friday, 20th May 2022, 9:35 am

The Shaymen reached the play-offs at the end of their first season in charge, a sensational, surprise outcome given what they'd inherited the previous summer.

But this time round it feels like the intended destination on a journey that has been planned and plotted through recruitment, a collective spirit and embedding an identity.

Town came up short last season, missing out after a final day defeat to Chesterfield - who they host on Tuesday - but standards and levels increased this season, with Halifax just missing out on the top three on the last day instead.

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Chris Millington

"It's excitement, this is the whole culmination of the hard work we've put in for the season," says assistant manager Millington on his thoughts about the play-offs.

"Its excitement in pushing forward and looking to finish the job. That's an important way to look at it, so we realise that this is the end of the hard work now, and we've got to continue it right through to the finish."

And Millington rates Town's chances as "very good".

"I think we're a very good side. As disappointing as the result and the performance was at Stockport in many respects, we know that on our day we can compete with them.

"Going in against the Chesterfields, Solihulls, Wrexhams and Notts Countys of the world, it definitely feels like the right place for us to be and that we warrant being in that company.

"I'm really confident. We're blessed with a really good group of players.

"I know it's a cliché and I know every management team says it about their own group, but I genuinely mean it.

"I feel we've got a real mixture of youthful exuberance mixed with a little bit of pragmatism from some of the older pros, mixed with a real solid resilience from some of the lads in and around their mid-20's who are just good, solid human beings who get the bit between their teeth and drive forward.

"They're an exciting group to be around and I think we are capable of anything if we set our minds to it and if we go into it with an effective plan."

But Millington's optimism is tempered with caution.

"We've not earned it yet because we've not won anything," he says.

"All we've achieved so far is progression. We think we've progressed the squad from the day we walked in the door, it's evolved year-on-year into what I would describe now as a squad that is a more true reflection of Pete and myself.

"I would suggest we've achieved that. I would suggest we've achieved a style of play that suits The Shay and that we wanted to implement.

"We've not earned the right to win anything yet, although I believe the lads work as hard, if not harder, than any other team in the league in terms of their work ethic, their preparation, their ability to deal with the day-to-day grind of a season.

"Its tough to keep rolling out, keep on putting on performances, but they've displayed all that this season.

"So my hope is that continues and that puts us in a place where, come the play-off final, they've done enough to earn a victory and earn what I believe would be a real accolade for the players, the fans and the club in general, which would be Football League status."

The Shaymen blazed through most of the season with a swaggering spirit, playing flowing football and racking up some outstanding results.

But that joie de vivre has been seen less towards the end of the campaign.

"I think we've evolved. In some respects I think we've grown up," Millington says.

"That might be translated as not quite as free-flowing and exciting but I think there's a certain maturity and professionalism about us now.

"We started the season being quite gung-ho and all-out-attack, looking to get the wing-backs as high and as much of an attacking threat as possible, and as often as possible.

"As the season's gone on we've evolved and we've tweaked that, and I think we're a much more professional team, we're a much more well-organised and professional outfit.

"I think it's inevitable we were going to change and develop, because of personnel, injuries at times, we've had to work slightly different ways of playing the same system, we've had to play the 4-3-3 in slightly different formats.

"So I think it's inevitable that we were going to progress and evolve.

"It would have been very challenging to maintain such levels of energy that we displayed in September and October right the way through the season.

"We're not a million miles from that, I think anybody who watched us in the early part of the season can still see the same traits, can still see the same style, can still see us wanting to perform to the same levels.

"But in certain moments of the game there's just a bit more professionalism, a bit more pragmatism about us."

Town only lost two of their last ten games, but performances rarely scaled the heights of earlier in the season.

"I think we could argue that if we look back over a long enough period, results have been mixed," Millington says.

"But the run-in is a really strange time of the season, when you get to that last 10 games and you've got things to play for.

"You've seen it with Wrexham on Sunday, you've seen it with Stockport in recent weeks, I think the only team who really go into it in a really sound run of form without any blips is Solihull largely.

"The rest of us have all taken our turn to have a slip-up. For the stage of the season we're at, it's not that unusual.

"It maybe feels it when you look at it in the context of the full season, but when you look at it in the context of the final 10 games of any league season, you see teams who have previously been quite controlled and performing very well, and getting very positive results, having slip-ups, throughout the levels, it's fairly common.

"So we're all in a similar boat.

"Our focus is on performance, how we can maximise our own performance to get a positive result against Chesterfield."

Millington wants The Shaymen to try doing that by being adventurous with the ball and aggressive without it.

"One of the things we feel we display when we're at our best is a freedom in possession," he says.

"I know some of the fans will think we maybe didn't demonstrate that against Stockport, but I think they'd agree we've done that in most of our games this season.

"When we do that, we're at our best. That's good, slick, one-touch, two-touch football to progress up the field.

"So I want to see that tempo to our play in possession.

"And then a snappiness and a tempo to our play out of possession.

"From an organised structure, we like to be able to press, get out and put opposition teams under pressure, pressure the ball at the earliest possible moment from a good, solid shape.

"So they're the two things I believe are part of our character and part of our style now at Halifax.

"Those are the things I'm really keen to see the players implement come Tuesday night."

Will Town be changing their preparation and approach for a one-off game, or treating as they would any other?

"We go into every game trying to win," Millington says. "I know Pete's talked in the past about sometimes having slightly different tactical approaches to try and win certain games, but we go into every game with the objective of trying to win, and that will be exactly the same against Chesterfield.

"In terms of approach, there isn't a great deal that will change.

"We've got the benefit of having a little lay-off, so bodies can recharge, people can freshen their minds, people can take their mind away from the game a little.

"But once we're back in all our energy goes into the upcoming opposition, which is the way it's been all season.

"Our focus has always been on the next opposition and what we're going to try and do to beat them.

"So in that respect it's business as usual. We're hungry, we're desperate to progress and we'll give everything we can to do that."

Town should attract their biggest crowd of the season for the game, which will be their final match of the campaign at The Shay whatever the result.

"The fans have been fantastic, and Stockport's a great example of that, taking near on a thousand fans over.

"The atmosphere they helped create was something pretty special.

"We've had moments at The Shay this season that have just been amazing, the atmosphere's been fantastic and the backing has been excellent.

"Being at home is brilliant, we want to be in-front of our own fans, we want to give them something to cheer about, we want them to really celebrate a positive end to the season.

"But also the pitch, we've made no secret of the fact that we recruited to be able to play a style that suits The Shay, and the home record this season would suggest that we achieved that.

"If you're an away team coming to The Shay you've got an awful lot to think about - how do we cope with the style of play Halifax are going to bring, how do we cope with the size of the pitch.

"Everybody who comes realises it's a real challenge to try and play a real solid 95 minutes' worth of good football on that size of pitch.

"We've found a way and the challenge now for Chesterfield will be to come and try and combat that."

Town would face Solihull away next Sunday if they beat Chesterfield, and if they beat Solihull, would play in the final on Sunday, June 5 against Wrexham, Notts County or Grimsby.

"Our main focus is on Chesterfield," says Millington. "We know Chesterfield well, we know their players well, we've obviously got a recent game to look back on.

"All our focus now will be on how we're going to do our very best to beat Chesterfield and progress.

"I think that's the way we've approached the season, boring as it is that I'm trotting out the same clichés, but the truth is we'll do whatever we can to perform to the standards we need to to get a result against Chesterfield, and then if we manage to do that, then we'll approach the next game in exactly the same vein."