Stevenage boss Darren Sarll looks to Lincoln City
PUBLISHED: 10:38 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:38 08 September 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
CometSport’s Layth Yousif interviewed Darren Sarll ahead of Stevenage’s Sky Bet League Two match against rivals Lincoln City. Read the transcript of what he had to say about tomorrow’s game.
Darren, confidence must be sky high with all the players after your unbeaten start to the season?
DS: The players are in a good place as you can imagine. We’ve actually been trying to encourage the players to believe a little bit more and have a great belief in their capabilities, so we’ve tried to encourage that this week and I saw a lovely harmony and atmosphere this morning in training. It was really great. As a manager you know when your team is in a good place by the atmosphere, by the way they talk to each other, by the speed and intensity of their play, and I’ve got to say it’s very good.
A couple of your players, a few of your players have been on international duty. That must give you a sense of pride? But obviously for some of them it’s game time as well isn’t it?
DS: No, absolutely. From a personal perspective, as academy manager, I produced Ryan, Dale and Ben and they’re all now playing at under-21 level for their country, so I’m very proud of them, and the club’s very proud of them. It’s nice to know that our young players get international recognition as have Luke Slater and Jamie Gray with the Republic of Ireland, Mark McKee was on standby for the U-21s – he’s an U-19 regular so we’ve got some talented young players. But we’re very proud of all four of them actually, including Mark, who was not needed – obviously he was injured anyway - but was picked on standby.
Can that benefit you, them getting that kind of experience?
DS: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. I’m a believer you’ve got to let them go and play international football, as long as you have a good relationship with the coach and good communication, absolutely. It’s important they want to do that.
That’s in the wider world is it? Do they get a little bit of the culture?
DS: Yeah, Ben and Dale in particular, because they’ve been playing for Northern Ireland since they were 15, you know they’ve seen the vast majority of Europe now on their travels, and obviously we’re delighted that Ryan was turned into a Northern Ireland player as an U-19. So no, we’re very pleased and I’m very supportive of Northern Ireland and their international duty. It’s been a long-standing relationship that I’ve had with the Irish FA, and Glen and Michael O’Neill used to be team-mates at Newcastle so it’s quite a nice little link there between the club and the association.
Following on from that, we’ve spoken a lot about the football, but quite often with you, it’s more than just the football, it’s about the character, it’s about the way people are. We spoke about that two weeks ago when I was here. And I suppose getting that experience from international football, going out with other players, it just adds to their character and personality?
DS: Yeah, and you look at the three boys, even though Ryan Johnson really is from the Midlands, they’ve lived on their own now for a long time. They’re grown up young people. You know, Ben’s moving into his own place soon, Dale lives on his own, Ryan Johnson’s still in digs but he’s a wonderfully independent, mature young man. He’s out on loan on his own, so he’s had to experience that as well. Listen, we take pride, I took great pride in producing good people as a developer, as well as good players, and I take great pride in what I see of Ben, Dale and Ryan every day. Mark McKee’s maturing really well, Jamie Gray’s maturing really well since he’s been up with the seniors, Mick Slater’s maturing. So we take a lot of interest in their lives because they’re here on their own, their parents have entrusted us and I take a great deal of responsibility in seeing them evolve into senior adolescent men.
Bit of an injury update, Jack King – still not 100 per cent?
DS: No, it’s a day at a time with Jack. We’re very cautious and careful. It’s a flip of a coin. With Matty Godden we’ve had to be careful with him again this week after Saturday, he got a little knock, Chris Whelpdale the same so the last two away performances and results have not come without sacrifice. It’s a great thing the players are willing to do that, put themselves on the line but also we’re not a massive squad of players here. I think our bench last weekend was young – aside from Chris Day, who brought the average age drastically up, I think we were 21 and under which is perfect for the football club, and we had two U-21s away on international duty while that was happening. Physically it has taken a toll in the early stages of the week, the two results, but we’re thoroughly delighted with the players’ sacrifice and commitment, and their willingness to get those two really important wins on the board away from home.
Lincoln will pose a pretty decent aerial threat, I think, from set pieces etc. and if there was… It’s difficult to throw any criticisms at you so far this season because you’ve started so well but I think, by your own admission, on occasion from set pieces you’ve been disappointed for a couple of goals. That’s presumably a threat you’ll look at from Lincoln?
DS: Newport was the last time we gave away a set play goal, the first game of the season. I think Joe Martin spoke about it in his post-match at Cheltenham so we’ve been pretty decent from set plays and the threat of them and we went to Millwall and dealt with the threat of their set plays which was substantial because of their aerial quality, their aerial power. But I think that when he played Millwall they should quite rightly pose a threat on more than one sort of instance. It’s a big football club, not just shy of ten thousand there the other day at home to Luton and it should pose a threat to Stevenage. It’s a club of real substance and size, and there’s an expectation for Lincoln to really threaten the top echelons of the league this year. I think the threat is more than just to isolate a set play. I think, you know, the tradition, the expectation for Danny and Nicky to recreate what they did last year, and listen, I would’ve thought their resources financially would fully support that as well, so it’s a big game, you know. We’ve made no bones about it to the players, we understand that it’s a big, big test and a big, big performance is what’s required.
In amongst their ranks is, I suppose you’d call him a Stevenage legend in many respects, Michael Bostwick. Coming up against him, I mean it’s going to happen, you’re going to come up against former players but he was one of those players in amongst that team that did so well for the club.
DS: Yes Michael was a really good player for us and quite rightly he deserves an accolade or an appreciation for his time spent here, but you know this club’s got to move on. I’d like to think the club’s bigger than any individual whether you’re Steve Morison, George Boyd, Lawrie Wilson, any of those that have been within the ranks and have played higher, and Michael’s a thoroughly nice man but it’s very similar to when Mark Roberts came back with Cambridge. There was probably a little bit too much attention for an opponent, for what is the enemy. Michael’s the enemy now, he’s not a friend, he’s not a colleague, he is the opponent. So we’ve got to make sure that the Lamex, the ground, the supporters know that he doesn’t play in red and white anymore for Stevenage, he plays in red and white for Lincoln so it’s important that we get behind our players, we get behind our new legends, it’s important that we get behind our key and influential players. We’re certainly going to need the crowd because Lincoln are going to bring, I believe, a thousand plus as away support and we need to make sure the atmosphere that we create as a football club, as an organisation is far greater than the opponent. We’ve got to beat them in every aspect of the game on Saturday if we’re to come out with another three points.
Following on from that, when I covered Arsenal against Lincoln last year, I was very impressed by them. Are you making any specific plans without giving away any trade secrets?
DS: Yep, just to win, that’s the only plan. The only plan is to win, and it’s to win Stevenage’s way, not Lincoln’s way, not Arsenal’s way, just a Stevenage win. And the plan will always be to do that, and they’ll have a strength. You see their recruitment, the strength of their recruitment this year is financially driven. We need to make sure that our recruitment and how brilliant it’s been brings their own skills and trades that the recruitment has brought to us this year, which is wonderful drive, great athleticism and ability to pass the ball. So we just need to make sure that Stevenage is Stevenage and the plan will always be to take maximum points home or away.
Just a small point on last week – that free-kick, was it practice, was it off-the-cuff?
DS: Well Joe practices, Joe’s an advocate of practicing. He’s a wonderful set piece taker and he’s got a lot of quality and actually, Joe won’t mind me saying this, he’s actually disappointed that he’s not taken more, not maybe asserted his experienced self onto some younger players that have decided to roll up and blow it into the arms of the goalkeeper. I’ve actually been a bit disappointed so from here on, what I think we’ll see is Joe Martin take free-kicks and I’d like to see Mr Wilkinson get on the ball every now and then as he poses a threat in a completely different way that allows the wall to probably roll over and scream.
I know you work them hard, but just out of interest, do any of the players stay behind and practice the free-kicks?
DS: I think players find stuff like that quite a fun thing. A pretend wall, put it down, who can hit that corner, that position. Tom Conlon has excellent technical ability, he certainly likes to practice. Dale Gorman thinks he can take them – thinks. Practices them, but still thinks. Unfortunately the manager doesn’t think he can. And Joe Martin, you know, they practice all the time. I saw Tom Pett practicing a few today, he reached the goal-line once, so he’ll be moved to one side for Joe.