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Michael Duff ahead of Bolton Wanderers away

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Exciting times, but back to the bread and butter now. What’s the message to the players?

Exactly that. Make sure you are in a position to be in the team for the one that everyone is talking about. If you take your eye off the ball, you won’t be in the team, so it’s quite an easy one for me. If you start seeing people dipping their toes into tackles and things like that, they won’t play. It’s quite simple for me.

The winning habit is something you’ve been lacking. How much can you build on Mansfield as a victory and then try to turn it into the start of a run?

You can dress it up as you want because you could technically say we drew the game. It was another good performance and I am a firm believer that if you keep churning out the performances we have been, your luck will turn. We created numerous chances, things off the line, handballs that could have been given, hitting the bar. Mansfield won again on Wednesday night and that’s four or five on the spin they’ve won in the league. We made a good team look pretty ordinary, without being disrespectful, other than the goal I am not sure they’ve had another chance in the 90 minutes. So, keep believing in that we do, keep working hard and keep getting better at the fine margins. They are the things you do need to improve. When you are on those moments when you can’t quite fall the right side, those fine margins are what you need to tighten up.

It went to extra-time, has everyone come through the 120 minutes okay?

Yes, but obviously Huss (Chris Hussey) got a whack on the foot. He’s not trained and he’s definitely a doubt. He did it 20 minutes before he actually came off. The swelling was that bad he struggled to get his boot off in the end. It’s just a kick, which is a good thing and there is no fracture or anything like that. It’s just pain related whether he’ll come through for Saturday. Other than that everyone came through fine.

When you bring Conor Thomas and Matty Blair back in after injuries, how pleasing is that because Conor covered 15.3km?

Conor is a standard and he’ll do 12 or 13km in a game anyway. He’s a naturally fit lad. We kept asking him during the game and he didn’t look like he was fatigued at any point. As it started edging towards the end, he’s also a penalty taker so that is why we took Ellis (Chapman) off and not Conor. Blairy had only missed 10 days, so we are really pleased we did what we did when he felt the first sign of a twinge against Colchester and we took him off. That’s what you have to do with the lads, being careful because their lad who felt a hamstring at Colchester and played on ended up leaving the ground on crutches because it did go bang. The players have to be robust and just get on with it at times, but there is a moment when, particularly with a muscle injury, that you have to err on the side of caution and thankfully this time we seem to have fallen the right side of that one because he managed to get through 120 minutes 10 days later.

Bolton again, having played them recently at home

Yes, it’s an extraordinary year in terms of fixtures anyway. How they fall and when they fall…we were due to play Barrow next week as well and we’ve only just played them. It’s funny how the fixture list has fallen. It’s a good team with good players. Obviously we fell the wrong side of a really tight one against them, but there was nothing in the game. They have gone down to Exeter on Tuesday night and there was nothing in the game. The players will enjoy going to the stadium, it’s a nice stadium, empty or not and the facilities are good. The pitch will be good and off the back of the other day, can we kick on?

Are Bolton improving because it did seem to take them a while to adjust to the level and find their feet?

I said this when we played them at home, but it’s hard to bring 17 players into a group and get them to knit together. It’s all right seeing players, but you don’t know their personalities, or what works in terms of chemistry between different people. He’s had a difficult job, Ian (Evatt). They have been going through a transitional period. They’ll still believe they can get in the play-offs and the players they have, and I am sure they’ll recruit again in January. They have proved, if you go through some of the players in their team and you don’t need me to tell you how good some of them are. It’s not quite clicked, they’ve shown signs of looking like it’s going to click and they are going to go on that run and then they sort of fall the wrong side of a result again and it puts them back a couple of weeks, but they have the potential to go on a run. Tranmere were 13th or 14th at this stage a couple of years ago and ended up going up through the play-offs. They definitely have that in their ranks.

How is progress in the transfer market at the moment and could the price of everyone go up a little bit due to the FA Cup run?

I wouldn’t have thought so and the market is the market at the minute. It’s been hard work. We’ve been close to a couple that we’ve not been able to get over the line for different reasons. That is where we’re at. We are trying to improve, but I won’t bring someone in just for the sake of bringing in a body. We have enough quality within the group and we are where we are in the table with this group. But are we looking to add? Yes. We are working as hard as we ever have done to get a couple of deals done.

How was your scouting trip to Northampton on Tuesday night?

Cold!

On the professionalism of the players, eating, drinking and sleeping right, especially over Christmas. How much of a reward was that with the way they came through extra-time against Mansfield?

Yes and I’ve said it a few times, but the game has changed in the last 20 years. I played with players who used to like a drink and a smoke and a gamble and they were good players as well. The culture within football has changed regarding how players look after themselves. They’d rather all go for a coffee together now in the afternoon, rather than boozing on a Tuesday night. All the players are ripped now whereas in the old days at step four level it wouldn’t always be the case. A lot of that is down to education in terms of the academies they come through now. They are a lot more informed, which sometimes isn’t always a good thing! But the sport science side of it as well. It does pay you back and that’s hard work. The work in the shadows. We only have that for three or four hours a day so the rest of the time they need to be living like professional athletes. That hard work, because it isn’t always easy when you see the rest of your family on Christmas Day stuffing their faces, having an extra sherry and an extra mince pie, you have to have that discipline and that is hard work. But it does pay you back. On Sunday, we looked pretty fresh considering it was a really tough game.

Lewis Freestone maybe went under the radar a bit after replacing Chris Hussey. How pleased were you with his performance?

I thought he was good, he was solid. Lewis is a perfect example and we had a conversation with him in the week. We really like what he’s doing. He’s not getting as many minutes as he’d like, but that’s more credit to the people in the team. When you do get your opportunity you need to be ready and again, hard work pays you back and that is an example of Lewis working hard every day in training, he does the right things, doing his gym work and not cutting corners. He ended up playing for about 75 minutes, so if he had been cutting corners and not doing it right, he gets his opportunity, fails and gets overlooked the next time. To come through it, like he did, maybe he did go under the radar but I thought he delivered a good performance.

Liam Sercombe has been running on the anti-gravity treadmill. Is there any chance of him coming back slightly earlier than expected?

No, I don’t think so. They can kid you, the Alter-G, he’s running but it’s like running on thin air. You can be 10 per cent of your actual body weight so just the motion really, rather than putting any weight through the knee. We won’t be rushing him. He’s a very, very good player. With the draw we’ve just had, he’ll be particularly disappointed I’d imagine because he’s been such a big part of what we’ve done already this season. But that’s just football and he’s experienced enough to know you can’t cut corners and we’ll put him back in the team and it’s fair to say that if we are picking our best XI, I don’t think I am being too controversial in saying Sercs gets in that starting XI. When he is fit and available, we’ll bring him back in at the right time.

How pleased are you to have Sean Long back involved after a second injury absence for him?

Brilliant. He’s a real character in the dressing room, Longy. He is a funny lad, ultimate pro and a machine in the gym. Unfortunately he’s been in the gym a bit too much in the last two or three years, but when he gets his opportunity, he’ll be ready. He’s a real dog in terms of a character when he’s training. He gets after people but when you see him in the dressing room environment when we are doing the ‘spins’ meetings and things like that, not that I know a lot about what goes on in the dressing room, but I’d say he’s probably one of the jokers in there.

How is Scott Flinders progressing?

He is progressing, but it’s just been slow. It’s a difficult one for Scott because having such a long time out, he’s champing at the bit to get back and he did come back and got this kick. It’s hard to put any sort of timeline on it now because we thought he’d have been back by now, but he’s not. We need to make sure he’s right when he does come back.

You watched a player in midweek, is that player still a realistic target now?

It’s someone we are talking to, whether the deal gets done or not… We’ve been close to a couple and missed out already. There haven’t been many games to go and watch and we are normally playing on a Tuesday. We had four people go to four different games on Tuesday night. There weren’t many games being played, so you are just trying to broaden your scouting network. Sometimes they are realistic, sometimes they’re not, so it was an opportunity to watch a player.

Have you been given any indication as to what you might be given to spend after the FA Cup run?

I have not had a conversation with the board and it’s been chaos as you’d imagine. Until we come to a deal for the board to sign off, we’ll keep going to the board. There have been two that were agreed, from a board level, but we missed out on them. I’ll keep showing players to the board and they’ll decide yes or no. But the fine detail of what there is left, I don’t know what the FA Cup will be worth in total, with all the sponsorship packages they’ve put together. People might think making a signing is easy and you just say ‘I want to buy him’ and there is the contract. But there are so many moving parts with any transfer, which sometimes from the outside looking in, people don’t see. I understand why supporters get frustrated because they think it’s a simple process, but it’s anything but.

Cheltenham haven’t played at Bolton before, but you have – any stand out memories?

I have played there a few times. The most hostile one was when we were in the Premier League and Owen Coyle left us, 11th or 12th in the table and he left to go Bolton, who we played two weeks later, so it was fair to say the atmosphere was pretty tense and toxic. It was a good atmosphere, but we lost the game 1-0 and it was a good game actually. It’s a Premier League ground, but they aren’t there now. They are in this transitional phase of trying to arrest a slide that’s happened in the last 10 years and that’s what Ian is trying to do, getting the wheel going in the other direction to start going back up the chain. It’s only a matter of time and whether it’s Ian or someone else, they will end up back up the leagues at some point.

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