Mark Bowen was pleased to report that his AFC Wimbledon side have been boosted by the return of three players ahead of this weekend’s fixture against Milton Keynes Dons.
The gaffer offered a detailed update on how preparations are going ahead of yet another home game at the Cherry Red Records Stadium as we look to go one better after drawing against Charlton Athletic on Tuesday.
Below is a full round-up of what was said as Chris Thorpe caught up with Mark at the training ground earlier on today.
Q: Mark, great to see you. How is the team shaping up for the weekend?
A: It’s a big boost to have Macca (Luke McCormick) out there training. I’m very hopeful that Sam Cosgrove will be available in some capacity – that’s a little bit complicated as he will have to wear a mask. Lee Brown has recovered from illness, so he’s also in the frame for Saturday.
And then you look at the impact that Ethan (Chislett) made during the week. He came on and was very effective, so players are coming to the fore at the right time. It’s all hands on deck for these last five games.
Q: How do you go about managing the expectations of the younger players?
A: I don’t want to sound like I am overcritical of younger players but the messages you get in academies are different to that of the ones you get in a first team environment.
It’s about knowing how to go and win games. It’s almost too complicated a question to answer, it’s mainly about the mindset that you have within the game. The best players make the best decisions in games. Young players don’t always make the best decisions. Of course, some of them stay that way, whereas some progress and go on to play at a higher level.
The staff are here to put the messages across for the players to do the right things – it helps us to put the demands on them.
Q: What’s surprised you about the squad so far?
A: Not a lot. I did a lot of homework before coming in. I watched a lot of games within a short period of time. I suppose what has surprised me is that the talent the squad has doesn’t necessarily match the situation we’re in. It’s hard to put your finger on why we have gone so long without a win. They started the season so well and they’ve been in a rut ever since.
In fairness to the lads, I don’t see any fear in their faces when they’re down here training. In the two games so far, there has been a bit of nervousness on show for a few spells. When I look at the game on Tuesday it wasn’t a fear, it was more an apprehension. They had to remember that they were playing at home in order to be dynamic and take more risks.
They won’t hear any criticism from me if they make mistakes once or twice. They will hear some if they continually put themselves in the position to make more mistakes, or if they’re hiding and they don’t want the ball.
Q: You changed things tactically in the second half against Charlton Athletic. Is that something you are looking to do more and more?
A: I’m always looking for different ways that we can affect the game. During the first half you get a feel for the game and you work out if anything needs adjusting. After 10 to 15 minutes in the second half you then have to work out how you can affect things more thoroughly in order to try to win it.
In terms of going to 4-4-2 on Tuesday, they had a man sent off, so we knew we could exploit the spaces in behind them with that extra man there. Even when Henry (Lawrence) went off, you had George Marsh switching to full back and bombing down the flank.
I’m always throwing a lot of things about in my mind, so I wouldn’t rule out changing our approach again - depending on what we’re facing.
Q: There is a lot of history surrounding Saturday’s match. Is it a case of telling the lads to play the game and not the occasion?
A: I’m not always an advocate of that. Sometimes the enormity of an occasion like Saturday’s game can give you an edge. I’m a big believer that teams play in a more effective manner when they’re angry.
I want the players to step on the field and feel angry because that might give them that extra yard. It might make them more tenacious and not so passive.
It’s about getting that balance right. It’s not a game they should be worried about at all, they need to enjoy the feeling and the edge that is behind the game. Every game between now and the end of the season is a big game for us.