Newly-promoted to the Championship, Gary Johnson’s Yeovil Town are struggling at the foot of the table. Ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Huish Park, Stephen D’Albiac tells us what to expect from the home side…
What are your expectations for 2013-14?
The simple answer is that there aren’t any real expectations this season. The fact the club even made it into the Championship was beyond pretty much any of our wildest dreams, and for most of us fans the only goal is to try and stay up and enjoy ourselves. I don’t think any of us are under any illusions as to how difficult it will be for us to survive at this level given how small our budget is compared to nearly every other team in this league, but as long as the players give 100% in every game and work their socks off for the club, then even if our best shot isn’t enough I don’t think we can ask for anymore than that. Obviously none of us want to go down, but as long as we do ourselves justice then I certainly won’t have any regrets. After all, how many clubs our size can say that they’ve played in the Championship?
What’s the fans’ general opinion of Gary Johnson?
Quite simply, the man’s a legend. Gary Johnson’s been at the forefront of pretty much every success that Yeovil since he first joined the club in 2001, and he brings with him a belief that was never there under those who came before him. Before he came back last January, although I’d always go into games hopeful of getting something from them, I was rarely confident that we would get anything. When Gary returned, it gave all of the fans a boost and made us believe that we could achieve something. As a Yeovil fan this may sound slightly biased, but for him to take a club with one of the smallest attendances and just about the smallest budget in League One and lead us into the Championship has to rank as one of the greatest managerial achievements of the last 20 years, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to compare the impact he has had on the club to that of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.
Following the tough start of the season there have been a tiny, tiny minority of fans who have started to question Gary’s position as manager, but he retains the full support of the vast majority of supporters (me very much included) and it would be madness to even contemplate changing anything. GJ’s managerial style and personality suits our club perfectly and there is not one person I would rather see in the dugout on a Saturday afternoon than him.
Have there been many changes since last season?
At the start of the season the very clear message was that those who won us promotion from League One would be given the chance to prove themselves in the Championship, and for the first few games that was very much the case. In the opening day victory over Millwall we played effectively the same side that beat Brentford in the play-off final (with only Dan Burn, who joined Birmingham, and the injured Jamie McAllister not featuring).
Since then more and more new faces have been introduced into the side. Joel Grant and Joe Ralls came into the side at the expense of Sam Foley and Kevin Dawson, whilst a number of new strike partnerships have been tested out, with none of our attacking options really firing yet (last season’s top scorer Paddy Madden in particular has been underwhelming). As a result, a number of options have been tried up front, with any two of Madden, James Hayter, Andy Williams, Kieffer Moore and Sam Hoskins featuring in a variety of combinations. Shane Duffy has also come in at centre-back since joining on loan from Everton, while Fraser Fyvie signed from Wigan last week and looked lively in the middle of the park against Brighton, although his debut was cut short by injury and he won’t be featuring on Saturday.
Overall though, the spine of the team is fairly similar to last season.
What can we expect tactically?
Yeovil will in all likelihood line up playing 4-4-2 on Saturday. We have tried a few different things this season, notably against Derby when we played a 4-5-1, although that was swiftly abandoned after a disastrous first-half in which we barely had a touch of the ball.
The difficult thing to predict is who Johnson will pick to play in that system. Last season this wouldn’t have been an issue as the team was settled, but with our poor run of results at the moment and more options to choose from than in the past the starting XI has been changing nearly every game. I can definitely say that Wayne Hennessey will play in goal, whilst Duffy and Byron Webster will probably remain at centre-back and Ed Upson will be in midfield. Joe Edwards will also start but whether that’s at his usual position of centre-midfield or at right-back depends on whether Gary decides to recall Luke Ayling or not. The rest of the side is much harder to predict, and with Johnson in an experimental mood at the moment I wouldn’t like to guess who else will be on the pitch.
Generally when confidence is high we’re a side that likes to take the game to the opposition and work the ball around the pitch, especially when we’re a home. Given our poor run at the moment and the lack of confidence in front of goal though, we may well take a more cautious approach to things, especially in the first 20 minutes or so as we try to gain a foothold on the game.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Ed Upson will definitely be a threat. He hasn’t been in the best of form of late and his passing game — which is usually very strong — hasn’t been what you’d expect, but when on song he’s an extremely dangerous player, and his shooting ability from long range means he always carries a goal threat. Joe Edwards is another one who could cause problems, especially if he partners Upson in midfield. Our most consistent player this season, he usually plays a deep-lying role and is good at breaking up play and starting attacks, so he will definitely be one worth keeping an eye out for.
If picked on Saturday, Sam Foley may also have a part to play. One of our strongest players last season, he has been inexplicably left out of the side in recent games, and with Liam Davis proving to be inconsistent in the wide-left berth that Foley usually occupies, Yeovil fans have been crying out for his return to his side. A creative threat that we’ve been sorely lacking in recent games, Foley offers pace and a strong work ethic for the team. If Gary does hand him his long-overdue return on Saturday, you can guarantee that he will go into the match with a point to prove and the determination to show that he deserves a place in the side.
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
Saturday’s going to be a tough game to predict. There’s no doubting that Yeovil will go into this game as underdogs, but our position at the foot of the table does not do justice to some of the performances we’ve put in this season. We more than competed in the home games with QPR and Reading and were the better side against both, before dodgy penalty decisions late on in both matches consigned us to 1-0 wins. Similarly, we were in the games against Leicester and Burnley before we fell behind, and on another day could have taken points from them, and should’ve beaten Bolton before conceding the equaliser in stoppage time. Lady luck has certainly not been on the Glovers’ side, and there still remains a feeling from many fans that a win will set us on a good run.
Nottingham Forest fans will certainly be fancying their chances of taking all three points from the game, and given the respective positions of both clubs it’s easy to see why, but Forest fans should know better than anyone just how dangerous it is to underestimate us, and we will fight to the very end to ensure that we come away from the game with the result we want.
You can follow Stephen on Twitter: Follow @sdalbiacf1