By Rob Cornell
Neal Ardley has urged our travelling fans to pick up exactly where they left off last season with the support that proved so important in maintaining the club's League One status.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow's opener at Fleetwood, Neal said: "At the end of the season, when we had our seven game unbeaten run, there was a real togetherness about the group. The fans cheered and clapped everything we did and really got behind us, whether we were struggling or behind in a game – Walsall springs to mind. If we can keep that real positivity around the place that we had at the end of last season, maybe, just maybe, we might do something special.
"Everyone should be excited. It's a new season and there's been a lot of turnaround of players. We all want to get off to a good start and we've prepared them as well as we can. I think we've shown good and bad things in pre-season, but we'll be giving it our all. We'll try and build a team that fits the mould of what the fans want.
"We had a good session on Tuesday. What we tried to do on Tuesday and Thursday was to go over everything that we really felt that we needed to, what we'd been doing in pre-season. Then we just started to tidy up all the little bits that we hadn't quite done a lot of during pre-season, but are going to be important for the league campaign, particularly on Saturday. We've done everything now we can possibly do. Now we've just got to keep spirits high, keep everyone in a good place, get them out there focused on their jobs, and the rest of it will unfold!
Neal's path into league management differs from that of his opposite number Joey Barton, who took over the managerial reigns at Highbury Stadium this summer. The manager has a healthy respect for the latest breed of new managers coming through.
"I was fortunate to play in many positions," said Neal. "I played nearly all the way across the back four and all the way across the midfield, so that held me in good stead when I made the transition, but I had six years running an Academy (at Cardiff City), so when I made the transition into this job I'd done a lot of tactical stuff and a lot of managing upwards and a lot of coaching.
"Joey has come in and had an exceptional pre-season and he's implementing what he wants to do and good luck to him. This year, with the likes of Joey, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, there's a real interest in how these very good centre midfielders that have come through over the last fifteen years are going to do as managers.
"I think the first games are probably the most difficult, probably the first month is quite difficult to get a stranglehold. What ends up happening is that as you do your homework on many teams, you actually end up doing your homework on all the teams they are playing against at the same time. You get a feel for the playing style and who is playing well and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You learn more about teams as the season goes on."
The full interview with Neal, plus an interview with new signing Tyler Garratt, are both on our iFollow channel.