INTERVIEW: Smith looking for killer edge on home soil
The Boro boss talked to the Comet on Thursday about the season so far, and looking ahead
Stoppage-time winners only usually come around for most teams no more than two or three times in a season. But stoppage-time winners away from home at one of the top sides in the division? Well they are like gold dust at any level of football.
But that’s exactly what Gary Smith’s Stevenage did at Notts County on Tuesday night, and the fallout from that has given the players an enormous confidence boost.
Not that they need it, of course, as Boro currently sit second in League 1 having remained unbeaten for the opening 10 games of the season. “A lot of the players were already in a good place mentally and a good result away from home always does wonders for any team, and especially there because Notts County are a good side,” Smith told the Comet.
But was Smith surprised to get all three points from Meadow Lane? Did he travel to Nottingham with the mindset that a point would have been a very positive result, let alone all three?
“You always have in the back of your mind what you’ll settle for as a minimum and when you go to a top side you hope to not get beaten, but as the game unfolded it became clear the three points were certainly within our grasp and we managed to take it.”
It says something about the confidence within the group that Boro have been able to go to places like Notts County, Coventry City, Leyton Orient and Oldham and pick up victories. The problem so far this season, is that they’ve struggled to replicate those results on their own patch.
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It is usually the case that in order to mount any sort of challenge at the top end of the table, you’ve got to win your home games, and hope to pick up at least a point on your travels. But it seems Smith’s side are doing it the other way around – something the manager finds it hard to put his finger on.
“We’re not the only side that have shown that, at home, it can be that much more difficult to get results. Even some of the top sides are just having a bit of a tricky patch in getting the results that might be expected. There’s no way of putting your finger on it,” said Smith.
“We have some talented players who are very capable and there’s more creation in the group than I saw last year. If you look at what is necessary at home, and the necessities when you go away they are slightly different.
“The likelihood is that a side coming to your home patch is going to be a tad more cautious, and therefore the emphasis is up to you to break them down, get off to a good start and get the crowd going. And we’ve tried to do that – there’s no doubt in my mind we’ve set up to be creative and to get on the front foot, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
“And when you concede first, which is what’s happened on a couple of occasions at home, those doubts start to enter you mind and you’ve got to try and turn those over.
“But I think one of the big qualities of this group, and we’ve seen it regularly now, is we’ve not only gone behind at home and got ourselves back in the game, we’ve also gone behind away from home and won the game. There’s no doubt that at any stage of any game we are capable of recovering a situation.”
When asked if he is happy with how his squad is developing in terms of their play on the pitch, Smith insists the biggest thing he wants to see is the players showing greater regularity with which they show a creative edge.
He admits that it is not always possible to achieve that due to the frantic and hurried nature of the game at this level, but says he believes the players he has at his disposal are more than capable of finding that killer edge at any given moment.
“If you look at any game we’ve played in you can see there’s a much more constructive edge to the group – to the point where, on occasions, we might have been a bit more direct and forceful. But the players have really tried to build pressure and to show a real edge on the ball,” added Smith.
“We’ve got players such as Greg Tansey, Filipe Morais, Lucas Akins, Luke Freeman and Robin Shroot who are individually very good, and capable of doing things with the ball that a lot of other players are not.
“So we do have a different dimension to us, but the toughest part when building any team is finding that quality in the final third regularly. But I think more and more we’re starting to see that the team is capable of creating chances and scoring goals.
“Most games, at whatever level you look at, you’ll see 30 minutes of the first half and around the same in the second half where teams show a lot of energy and determination. And it’s when that energy level drops that you ask: ‘do you have what it takes to pick a pass and to have that culture that makes a difference?’
“And I think I’m right in saying that we’ve scored in every game we’ve played in this year – so on a positive note we are getting chances and we are scoring goals – and it’s not strange that’s reflected in our really good, unbeaten run.”
Scunthorpe are the visitors to the Lamex Stadium on Saturday – another home fixture that, on paper at least, Boro would expect to win. But so far this season no match at home has been so straightforward, and Smith expects more of the same again.
“There will be qualities in this Scunthorpe team that maybe we’ve not had to deal with yet,” said Smith. “Leon Clarke is on a nice streak, for example, but we’re at that point, and have been for a good while, where it really depends on what we can produce.
“There is, of course, a concern about your opponents but we’ve got the players here to win the game. It’s about how we get going and what sort of rhythm we can get in because we’ve shown we’re capable of getting in front and winning games.”