Manager Keith Hill reflects on Dale’s 2017-18 campaign…
“It has been a 60 game season that has been full of drama. I don’t know how you quantify the season but it has been as close as you can get to massive success – it’s weird,” said Hill.
“We had 18 clean sheets in the league. 18 cleans sheets would normally get you in the play-offs and 20 clean sheets normally gets you promoted, and we finished one point outside the bottom four.
“It’s narrow margins. We haven’t scored enough goals this season and we’ve drawn too many games.
“As a manager, you try to make sure that you get the right balance [in terms of goals conceded and scored], and we haven’t. We’ve attacked and missed opportunities, we’ve made mistakes and have been narrowly beaten or drawn games, having taken the lead.
“We would have been comfortably fourth if we’d have picked up the points that we’d lost from winning positions, so it’s narrow margins.
“But we did enough and I think we’re better than finishing fifth bottom. The budget league would suggest that we’re not, but I believe we are. There have been times when I’ve been upset at performances, been upset with results and individuals, but we’ve retained our composure and we’ve got the job done whereas other clubs haven’t.
“It has been a really hectic, dramatic and stressful season. You bump into turbulence every so often and we’ve had a turbulent season, but I believe that will support us in being stronger in seasons to come.
“It has been a brilliant exercise in seeing how people react to the dramas of the season. I’ve always expressed to everybody that it’s a 46 game season, and over 46 games we’ve done what was necessary to make sure that we retained our League One status. We now go into our fifth consecutive season in League One, which is a massive statement and a massive achievement for the football club.
“At no point did I ever think that we were actually down, and that’s why we came up with a plan after the 30th game. Of course, we had a plan before that to be more successful than we had been, but 26 points from 30 games is not good football, it’s not good results and it’s probably not good management, so when we realised that the position we were in was really serious we tried to come up with a plan, and the players were superb in responding to the pressures of being in that position.
“We’ve been in good form since the turn of the 30th game and hopefully we’ve learned big lessons, the players especially, from this season. We shouldn’t take anything for granted. As far as I’m concerned, I believe the players and myself have learned the lessons.
“But, it’s funny because I feel as though the season has been a massive, massive, massive success. Ridiculous at times like I said, because it was full of drama and it was all quantified in the last game of the season.”
And Hill reckons the learning curve and experiences of this season will stand the squad in good stead moving forwards.
“The players will generate and carry their own enthusiasm for a fresh start on zero points. The players have achieved a lot over the last four seasons, but it wasn’t the right feeling during pre-season and during the early stages – I could sense a little bit of complacency. It wasn’t as though the players were still on holiday, it was more like ‘this was hard work’ and in any walk of life if you’re overachieving constantly, it’s difficult to keep motivating yourself to do it, and I think there was a little bit of that.
“From a football perspective, it’s difficult because you don’t want to be in that situation again, but there are no guarantees. It will come down to players’ application, attitude and a collective endeavour to overachieve. If you were to speak to the players, I think there was a little bit of complacency with our League One status, because we’d got promoted and then secured a top 10 finish in three consecutive seasons and missed out on the play-offs by four points.
“I think what we’ve achieved this season, narrowly avoiding relegation, has woken up all the players to ‘we can’t go through this process again’, so I think that in itself will be a success taking it into next season, and that’s where I’m really, really pleased that we’ve avoided the psychological complications of getting relegated.
“Having spoken with all the players on Tuesday and having watched the way they celebrated our achievements, and the supporters as well because they were magnificent, then it’s like ‘we can’t tempt fate again so we’ve got to make sure that we have the overachieving mentality on the training pitch and in games’.
Watch the full 13 minute interview on iFollow.