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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 14

21 November 2012

A few weeks ago I questioned Kevin Blackwell's decision to publicly label his Bury squad garbage after they lost to Swindon Town but after they beat Scunthorpe Untied at Glanford Park on Tuesday night, making four win in their last six npower League 1 games, I'd have to say Kevin's methods have been justified.

Looking back, I think his comments were taken out of context at the time. He didn't mean he believed all his players were rubbish and the clever bit was leaving it to the squad to interpret who he was actually talking about. He has certainly got the response he was hoping for.

I've always said managers are part coach, part psychologist and Kevin has shown he's adept at both roles.

It's obvious in hindsight what he was doing. Bury don't boast the biggest squad in the division and Kevin must have thought there wasn't enough competition among his players for places. In saying what he did, he kept them all on their toes and judging by recent results, it has had the desired effect.

I bet every single one of his players went home after that defeat against Swindon, read his comments in the papers and worried if he was pointing the finger at them. I also bet they turned up for the next training season and gave it everything.

I employed a part-time psychologist when I was the manager at Barnsley and I noticed in a lot of the meetings that he had with the players, what he said was designed to make them think whether he was talking about them or one of their team-mates. It wasn't about undermining them but it was about making them question themselves and their performances.

I said I preferred to keep things in the dressing room but Kevin has proved there are times when going public can also get results.

Tuesday night saw Doncaster Rovers win 3-1 away at Carlisle United and I've been hugely impressed with the quiet, understated way Dean Saunders and his side have gone about their business this season. In fact, for me they've had the perfect campaign so far with 10 wins and three draws in 18 games and barely a negative headline in sight.

After a brilliant start followed by an early slump, they've almost crept unnoticed into fourth place without anyone paying them any attention and while the likes of Tranmere Rovers have supplied the fireworks, Saunders' side have sneaked up on the rails.

I always thought this season would be the biggest challenge of Dean's managerial career so far but memories of last season's relegation seem to be fading fast.

Life is not quite so rosy for John Hughes at Hartlepool United, though. He's only two games into the job after leaving Livingston but if he was under any illusions about the size of the task at Victoria Park, they will have been blown away by successive home defeats to Coventry City at the weekend and Oldham Athletic in midweek.

The most alarming statistic for Hughes will be the seven goals his side have leaked in those two games and while I'm sure he hasn't got any regrets heading down to England from Scotland, he's definitely had a baptism of fire.

With the club already 10 points adrift of safety, I suspect rebuilding for next season might already be on the agenda at Victoria Park. There are never any overnight cures in football and with more than third of the season already done and dusted, it's difficult to see Hartlepool recovering.

I read with interest this week that Tom Soares is playing for nothing at Bury in the hope of earning himself a contract. He was released by Stoke City in the summer and I admire the lad's attitude in agreeing to what is effectively an indefinite trial period.

Soares played in the Premier League for Crystal Palace a few years ago and he's still only 26. Other players with that kind of pedigree might have thought they were too big time to play for free to impress a manager in a lower division but he's obviously not arrogant and all credit to him.

He'll still be getting his travel expenses but it's still a brave decision and I wish him luck.

I'm not convinced there's going to be a flood of out-of-contract players following his lead though. The managers would love it because, in financial terms, it's a low risk strategy but it would be an alien concept to a lot of professionals.

It's not a totally new situation but players willing to put in a shift before they sign on the dotted line are still a rarity.

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