The Iron face Walsall at the Sands Venue Stadium this Boxing Day, and on the back of an eight-match unbeaten league run, Paul Hurst spoke to iFollow Iron ahead of his side’s clash with the Saddlers.
Before discussing what’s still to come for the Iron over the festive period, Hurst reflected on a great weekend. He said: “It’s nice to win any game, but especially one where there’s so many fans there, as well as the rivalry and the atmosphere. At the end when we got together in front of the fans, that’s what you want to be in football for, and to be successful over a longer period.
“Certain games just mean more to the fans, albeit with the same reward at the end of it being three points. We’re just pleased to give the fans that victory and bragging rights, it makes your weekend that little bit better, and probably Christmas dinner too!”
Paul Hurst was delighted the fans got an early Christmas present on Saturday, but his focus is now firmly on the busy period ahead for the Iron. He stated: “The games do come pretty quick. At the minute, for myself, the lads, and the analyst, there are a lot of games to watch to get up to speed with everything.
“In terms of Walsall, Darrell (Walsall manager) is quite happy changing his team around when it comes to personnel, and certainly formation. Whilst we will watch their games, we have to take it with a pinch of salt in the sense of what he puts out there.
“We’ll just have to deal with that (Walsall’s team selection) on the day, in a lot of ways. Also, we’ve got to look at who we’ve got available, and what sort of team we can put out.”
Since the reverse fixture in September – where the Iron were narrowly edged out 1-0 at the Banks’s Stadium – both sides’ league form has improved considerably.
“We know what kind of form we’re in” Hurst said. “But Walsall haven’t lost since the start of November, and have been picking up points. They’re probably another example of taking a bit of time (to get going).
“Darrell went into the club having made a lot of changes to the squad overall, I know we brought quite a few players in, but there’s also quite a few here from last season. He (Darrell Clarke) has now got his players understanding what he wants from them better, and results have certainly picked up for them.”
The Iron gaffer went on to say: “There’s no easy game, that’s for sure. They were 3-0 up at the weekend, and whilst they would’ve liked to have held on for the victory, to go to Exeter and score three shows they carry a threat. They have some lads similar to ours, in that they’re playing with confidence, so it’s a different game to when we played them earlier in the season.”
He added: “For me – at the minute – we’re going to go with what suits us, and hope that we can get the performance and result we need. Ultimately, we didn’t get the performance (against Grimsby), but the most important thing is that we got the result.
“At the moment, there are so many things up in the air going into the game (on Boxing Day), I can’t sit here and even second guess what the team will be. We’ll have to see how the next couple of days go, and make a call on what we do.”
With the tight Christmas period in terms of fixtures, no doubt most clubs will experience a change in the weekly schedule, and Hurst affirms the Iron are no different.
He said: “Things have changed a little bit. In the last three weeks we’ve had Thursdays off, rather than the Wednesday, and we’re off on Christmas Day, that doesn’t change. After that, I think we’re off after the Crewe game and that’s it, we’re in training.
“It gets to the point where you forget what day it is! You’re more looking at the date than the day, but we know that that’s part and parcel of it, nothing’s changed since the fixtures came out. We’ve planned for it, but what you can’t plan for is injuries and illnesses that affect the group, although you sort of expect to deal with that around this time of year.”
Although the manager declared there is little in the way of information he can offer at the moment, in terms of injury updates, Hurst did say: “Regan (Slater) has his operation (on his ankle) this morning, and Yann (Songo’o) is set for a scan later today, it turns out it’s his knee, not his foot as I presumed at the weekend.
“He’s opened his knee up, his medial ligament, which wasn’t looking too good on Sunday so I think he’s almost certainly out of the game (on Boxing Day), it’s just a case of how much damage there is there looking forward.
“We’ve also got a number of players who are question marks, and haven’t trained today. Whether or not they can train on Christmas Eve remains to seen, and the same goes for their availability on Boxing Day.
“It’s a case of having to be patient, open-minded and flexible, once we know exactly where they’re at.”
The Christmas period is arguably the worst time in a season to be picking up injuries, with players missing out on multiple fixtures in quick succession, and Paul Hurst acknowledged how it has affected his squad.
“I genuinely don’t think – even with a clean bill of health – that we could put the same team out for Walsall, Crewe and Oldham. I’d probably include Plymouth after that as well," he said.
“You’re maybe looking at who suits which game best, we do have to change how we set up, and I’m probably going to be forced into putting out who's available for the first one (Walsall), and we might be able to reassess once we’ve got through that game.”
Traditionally, Boxing Day tends to bring in bigger crowds across the country, and particularly new families attending football for the first time. Hurst knows his players are giving everything to get what’s needed for the fans to go home happy. He said: “The players can’t do much more at the minute, in terms of results and points accumulated.
“I think most performances have been pretty good recently. I saw this morning, if you take just the last twelve league games, we’d be top of the league. From that point of view, we can’t ask anymore.
“We know we can’t change it, but it’s the first seven games that cost us. In between that, we won one, drew one, and lost one, so clearly we’d be right up there.
“The difficulty we’ve got now, is that we have to try and maintain that sort of form to claw ourselves further up the table, and into contention. Overall, it has been a really good response from the team and the squad, to show we are a lot better than early results were showing.”
See much more from Paul Hurst and James Perch on iFollow Iron. Click here to sign up.