Ryder Cup style foot golf, big goalkeeping decision and loan update – Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff ahead of Walsall at home

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What do you think about the five subs change?

It is what it is and I think you’ll only be able to break the game three times still, so it’s similar to play-offs. It gives you more options from the bench. I don’t think we voted for it and we were happy to carry on as it is. In terms of protecting people, you might be able to protect a few more during the game, freshen it up a little bit. From our point of view, you have to be careful not to make changes just for the sake of making changes. There needs to be a method behind why you are changing the game.

Is there a risk of causing too much disruption?

Yes, that’s what I mean by doing it for the sake of doing it. When you do make subs, it’s not 60 minutes, make a sub. We do try and go through why and how it’s going to impact on the game. It is important you make changes for the right reasons. Not just because you can.

It’s there to protect players. How difficult is recovery in Covid times?

There are challenges. The lads had Monday and Tuesday off because it’s become so monotonous, the training. It’s second day recovery, prep, recovery, prep, so training hasn’t been very varied. Trying to get the right thing into them, ice baths and things, is tough. It’s been a good week, the lads have had a bit of a break, a bit of fun on Wednesday and a proper training session on Thursday and Friday in preparation for the game. It’s difficult, but it’s the times we are living in.

Have you noticed a difference this week?

I’ll tell you today. Yesterday was a bit of Ryder Cup themed football golf. I’d like to think it’s a good training session planned, so hopefully the players will execute it well and be refreshed, ready to go again. They’ve had a total break, getting them away from the building to freshen it up a little bit.

Decisions to be made in terms of selection, keeps everyone on their toes?

Yes, last Saturday was a tough team to pick. There were two or three really close to getting back into the team, which is what you want. The obvious one now is the goalkeeper. From my point of view they are good decisions to have, people putting their hand up and showing they are ready to play. Difficult, but a good problem.

Walsall are hard to beat, but will they have a point to prove after losing to Southend?

I’d imagine they’ll be looking for a reaction. It’s a funny league and everyone would have expected a home win. We’ve had a couple of those ourselves. They’ll be disappointed with the game, but they’ve had five away games and not won or lost, which tells you everything about them. They are difficult to beat, but they are not quite doing enough to win games. They’ve lost two and we’ve lost four already. They are a dangerous team, the sort that can turn up, win 2-0 and not many people would be surprised, so we have to be at it. They’ll be smarting from last week.

You have been looking for the team to toughen up a little bit and they did that at Carlisle. Is the challenge now to do that consistently?

It is, but we have won 11 games already this season. We need to be careful we don’t keep asking too much. We are third in the league so we are not too far off it. We’ve not a had a bad run. Yes we’ve lost a couple of games we wouldn’t have wanted to after being 1-0 up, but if you take the emotion out of it and look at how the games have done, I think everyone at the football club would take being third after 12 games. Yes, we want to go again, but be careful not to ask too much all the time. We can’t always be brilliant and play open, expansive football and win 3-0. The league doesn’t let that happen. Walsall had that last week. They key is can we be more consistent in terms of when we go 1-0 up, can we not have that nervy five minutes, which we did well on Saturday. It’s the realisation of where we’re at and we’ve done all right. We’ll be looking for another result and performance obviously. I am not demanding another run or anything like that, let’s just take every game as it comes.

Injuries, is everyone apart from Sean Long all right?

Yes, everyone is training. Finn (Azaz) has been in and he’s had another week of training so he’ll come into the thoughts and it’ll be a full, fresh squad.

Lot of talk about heading and dementia. As a former centre-half is that something you worry about?

I think anyone who knows me does worry because I am quite forgetful at this age now. It’s a concern, but the balls are different to how they were when for example the 1966 World Cup squad played. They need to do more studies, with more funding, so it’s not on a whim and to evidence what people are saying. There have been some back then, but the balls are totally different. Even when I was at school the balls were hard and when they got wet they were heavy. It’s not like that now, but it definitely needs investigating because it is a concern. I haven’t got the knowledge to have a valid opinion to be honest

Training is blamed a lot, but if you don’t head it properly in training you get it wrong in the games and could do more damage?

Yes, there is a technique as well. Everyone knows if you head it at the top of your head it does hurt. Until there is real scientific studies and facts, then people can take appropriate measures because I don’t think Under-12s and 13s need to head the ball. My best mate lives in America and at a certain age they can’t head it there. If needs be that’s what we’ll have to do.

How did the Ryder Cup foot golf work and did you take part yourself?

It got competitive, but I didn’t take part. The southern team won it and there was a quiz at the end. Wade Elliott came to the fore because he was in the winning team and he won the quiz. It’s the second time we’ve done it and it changes it up, a bit of fun, all the lads came properly dressed up. Russ (Milton) created the course and gave every hole a name and it was good fun.

There isn’t much you can do at the moment apart from training to get the lads together, so was it the most creative activity possible in the circumstances?

Yes, it’s something we’ve discussed. We haven’t had a pre-season tour, you can’t do any bonding or socialising. That was the idea behind it, give the lads a few days off to re-energise, then change the feel of it so it doesn’t feel like a training day, then back to work on Thursday. The reason behind it was trying to get them together without it being football.

Is the goalkeeper selection a particularly difficult one?

I won’t be able to tell you because I don’t know myself yet. Whoever we go for, the other will feel hard done by because if we go with Scott Flinders, Josh Griffiths has done nothing wrong and he’s gone away with England. Vice versa, if we go with Josh, Scott has been excellent against Plymouth, Norwich and last week – making a save that ultimately won us the game. It’s going to be harsh on somebody, but hopefully, whoever we go with, the other one will take it the right way, which I am sure they will, and crack on as normal.

Will you be trying to get Max Harris out on loan now?

Yes, it’s a conversation we’ve had with Max and he knows where he’s at and he’s quite happy with that. The difficulty is there are only two leagues you can go to, so that might prove a problem. Max has been good, he knows where he is on his development curve and the next part is trying to get him some football now we have two other goalkeepers available.

Grant Horton has joined Bath City on loan, how pleased are you with that?

He’s been excellent Grant and we’re really happy with him. Another conversation we’ve had, with him, last week. He was excellent against Norwich, he’d been in and around the first team squad. It’s important we do get him out on loan for his development and if he keeps going the way he is, that’ll be good for us. We know Jerry (Gill) with Dan Bowry going there. There were two or three other clubs at the same level that wanted Grant in the summer as well and that shows how highly he is thought of here and by other people. Hopefully he can get some games, put things into practice and come back a better player at the end of it.

How is Sean Long’s rehab going?

Yes, it’s been a slow burner in terms of what he’s been allowed to do, but he is good and gets on with it. He’s doing laps and laps, but he hasn’t got to the twisting and turning stage yet. Gav works him hard, no moaning, gets on with it and he knows there is a process in place and he knows he’s on that journey.


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