Manager James McPake looks forward to Saturday’s home match against Morton and reflects on the recent additions to his squad.
Despite taking six points from the two matches against Morton this season, James is fully aware of the good form Dougie Imrie’s side have produced since losing to Dunfermline and Partick Thistle in November. The Greenock side are now undefeated in their last 12 matches across all competitions. James commented:-
“They’ve been great. I think ever since we went down there on that Friday night, and they were on a really poor run at that point, they’ve turned it round. That’s credit to Dougie, his staff and players because that’s not easy, particularly in this league. They’re unbeaten in nine league matches so to go and do that in this league is tough. I should know – I don’t think I’ve ever done that!
“It’s credit to them. We know it’s going to be a tough game. Even taking their form away, although we’ve beaten them twice, the games have been really tough. Here, I thought we were excellent for 70-odd minutes of that game, and could’ve scored a few more. Down there, we started really well but, again, showing the fight that they’ve got, they never backed down, they kept coming back at us, and it was a tough end to the game for us. We’re under no illusion just how tough this will be, but we’re looking forward to it.”
New signings Malachi Fagan- Walcott, Brad Holmes and Xavier Benjamin (pictured below) – will go straight into the squad and James described business completed during the transfer window that closed on Thursday 1st February as “productive”.
“Bearing in mind we have this (loans) window in Scotland that goes to the end of February, to get the ones in that we did and to keep Josh Edwards was a massive one for us as well. I’m pleased by the way that we have done it, the club have been great with it again. We did keep working to fill the squad as best we can.”
The manager confirmed that a bid for Josh Edwards was knocked back showing great intent from the club. He felt that anyone could see particularly exaggerated with the injury list, that the team was light in the centre back area:-
“Malachi coming in has helped with that. Obviously I knew Malachi but Xavier was one we watched footage of and he has developed and stood out. He has played in the first team albeit it was two cup games in the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup but he was one that jumped out. We did a bit more digging, spoke to a few people as well and everything came back positive along with the footage we were watching. In the end it was a no brainer to do it. Xavier trained this morning, he looked really good and he will be in the squad for tomorrow.”
Brad Holmes (pictured above) arrived on loan from Blackpool on Wednesday and he has joined in training. Both he and Xavier have settled in well with James claiming that is not hard given the friendliness of his squad making it a good group to join. Looking at the seven players who are currently sidelined James gave updates.
“Aaron Comrie is end stage, doing really well and he was at training today doing a fair chunk of the work, Aaron was good. Others are coming on – Matty Todd is back running, Kane (Ritchie-Hosler) is running although the timescale with Kane will be what was said but it is good to see him back running. Breeny, Bene and Jakubiak, they are all running really to a certain point. Breeny is probably the one at the back of that, he is doing early stage runs.”
With those players nearing match fitness and the three additions there are more options available to the manager. He agreed:-
“The three new signings are good players but it energises the squad, particularly I think we needed that because of the injuries we had picked up. That had a bearing on the squad – it would any squad in any league. When you lose five or six key players then it’s tough for the other ones training every day, playing all the games and you are asking a lot of them.
“We did say at the start of this window that we would look to try and help wherever we could. Those two positions were really where we did needed it quickly in terms of numbers.“
Malachi Fagan-Walcott (pictured above) made his debut against Dundee United last Saturday and that enabled the manager to immediately deploy Chris Hamilton in a midfield role. James was impressed with Chris’ contribution and highlighted how the ability of both Chris Hamilton and Ewan Otoo to move from a defensive role to one further up the park was a real bonus:-
“Chris and Ewan are very similar in terms of players that can play different positions, or they can stand in, and I think those two can do both positions really well. For certain games I think we’ll look to use Hammy as a centre back, for certain games we’ll try and overload the midfield with what he brings us in there.
“I’m delighted that he can perform at that level, and pleased for him as well because it was a wee worry when you’re moving him from a position he’s doing well, and if it doesn’t quite go for him, how would he feel? I think, subconsciously, for him he’d have been going into that game desperate to do well because he was back in in the midfield. I thought he was excellent up there, he really was. I think it’s credit to him that he’ll go into centre back, he’ll then move to midfield, and we always forget just how young he is. He doesn’t look young.
“It’s credit to Chris (pictured above) and the way he trains and the way he works. He’s always working as well remotely, and now he’s at the point where he’s asking to do extras as a centre back and as a midfielder, so there’s not enough hours in the day for the time that he wants to train and work. He’s really great to work with. I’m not going to do this, but I could ask him to play as a 10 tomorrow and he would more than happily do it. He just loves playing for this football club.”
The manager acknowledged that players just want to play, so most would stand in anywhere the boss requires, he added “it’s tough for me watching the games back and working with them every day, to pick what position they’re best at.
“Again, I think that comes down to opponents, or whether you’re home, away, whatever you’re trying to do in a game as well, the personnel you’ve got to choose from, or what suits Chris Hamilton or Ewan Otoo in your team because I think the two have shown that, when fit and available, that they’re really important to this football club. It’s great having them. There’s others that can, at the top end of the pitch, that can play different areas. Michael’s played different areas, Aaron’s done it as well, so it’s great having that.”
Playing players out of position however is not something James wants to rely on, hence the reason why he has this transfer window brought in the two centre backs – Malachi Fagan-Walcott and Xavier Benjamin – and striker Brad Holmes.
“We have been looking at different areas, but it’s something we like to do by choice if that was the option when the squad is back to better health. That’ll be fun to have at your disposal when you’re the coach or the manager at this club, when you’ve got that full squad to pick from, because there’s some good players in there.”