Match Preview Q&A – Steven Pye on Boreham Wood

“The away form has been impressive. If you look at the teams currently in and around the Wood in the table, the team have won at Halifax, Solihull, Woking, Stockport, and Dover, and picked up creditable draws away at Harrogate, Yeovil and Notts County.”

The opposition interview series continues, with Steven Pye returning to discuss his team Sutton United

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Hi Steve thanks for talking to us, how would you summarise Boreham Wood’s season so far?

Hi Dominic. Well, after a slow start – seven points in the opening seven matches – the season has really kicked on. The Wood are now firmly involved in the play-off picture, and as we approach squeaky bum time it really is quite exciting to be involved at the right end of the table.

The early exits in the FA Cup and FA Trophy were disappointing, especially the latter (away at Royston) as I feel there was a good chance to progress a long way in that competition. However, even though early cup exits are frustrating for fans, maybe it allowed the team to concentrate on the league.

Hows your recent form been heading into Saturday’s game?

Since the end of October the league form has been fantastic. A 15-match unbeaten run was recently halted at Aldershot, but two draws and a win since then have steadied the ship. Manager Luke Garrard commented after the Aldershot defeat that he wanted the team to start another unbeaten streak, so hopefully this can continue with the visits of Torquay and Halifax in the next few days.

What’s been your highlights of the season?

The away form has been impressive. If you look at the teams currently in and around the Wood in the table, the team have won at Halifax, Solihull, Woking, Stockport, and Dover, and picked up creditable draws away at Harrogate, Yeovil and Notts County.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed going to a few new grounds this season – Biggleswade, Notts County, Aldershot, Royston. The beauty of following a non-league team is that you don’t have to book tickets months in advance, and it’s refreshing to turn up to grounds and buy a ticket on the gate.

Which Wood players should we look out for and why?

Kabs Tshimanga is obviously a man that Torquay will need to keep a close eye on. His recent strike at Maidenhead was his 18th league goal of the season, and he has formed a fine partnership with Tyrone Marsh. Keiran Murtagh has recently returned to the midfield, and he is a player I admire a lot (my son can vouch for that), as he always seems to have so much time on the ball.

Goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore has been a revelation since he joined in October, although he will be suspended for the Torquay match as he was sent off against Maidenhead. Grant Smith should be an able deputy though; Smith previously played for the Wood between 2016-18 and played a big part in helping the team reach the play-off final. And you may have seen Matt Rhead play before? He joined the Wood in February, and has proved a right handful for defences in the National League. His aerial power and strength do offer the Wood another dimension.

The wide players are a big threat. Kane Smith (assuming he’s fit for Saturday) and Sorba Thomas will get up and down the pitch, and both are very popular with the Wood Army. Smith has been superb since he joined from Hitchin in 2017 and it’s great to see him back in the team after he missed most of 2018/19 due to a serious knee injury. And Thomas has come through the excellent Academy at the Wood, and it’s always great to see a youth product make his mark in the first team.

How well do you rate the gaffer and how does he like to set the team up?

Luke Garrard has done a brilliant job since he was appointed during the 2015/16 season. He was just 30 at the time, and to keep the Wood up in the National League was something that didn’t seem possible for large chunks of that campaign. Building on this, Garrard’s achievements in 2017/18 – an FA Cup win over Blackpool and reaching the play-off final – highlighted how far he and the club had come. 2018/19 was a struggle, but Luke would have probably learned a lot about himself that season.

Garrard normally sets up with three centre backs, Smith and Thomas down the flanks, with skipper Mark Ricketts playing the anchor role in midfield. I’m no expert on tactics, but the formation seems pretty fluid. Sometimes Tshimanga or Marsh will drift out wide, with Rhead occupying a more central role. Although Rhead does provide an aerial presence, generally the team like to get the ball down and play, especially on the dream playing surface at Meadow Park.

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Where’s best for the Yellow Army to grab pre-match good and drinks?

In my past experience, the Wetherspoons on the high street is always popular with away supporters (The Hart & Spool, WD6 1EQ). Cheap alcohol and reasonably priced food is always a winner when on an away trip (I’m not on commission, honestly). There are plenty of fast food outlets along the high street too.

Do you fancy your chances of promotion?

If we can reach the play-offs then obviously anything can happen. What I will say is that I’m a bit more confident in the depth of the squad this time around in comparison to 2018. That year we lost key players in the play-offs before the Wembley disappointment, and without the likes of Kane Smith, Jamie Turley and Morgan Ferrier, the team was severely weakened.

A few weeks ago I did even start to look up at Barrow and wonder if they could be caught. I’m not sure that will happen now, but if the Wood can secure second or third place then a semi-final at Meadow Park gives the team an ideal opportunity to return down Wembley Way. It’s been noted that attendances at Boreham Wood are a little on the low side, yet I can guarantee that there would be a good gate for a home semi-final, and not many teams would fancy a visit to Meadow Park if the Wood Army can find their voice.

Considering your modest attendances, could the club cope with the step up to League 2?

I’ve been cautiously optimistic about this recently. It might not sound much, but the last three home games have seen attendances of 932, 1,040 and 1,099. Yes, I know the away teams involved have brought a lot of fans, but the new North Bank stand seems to be a bit busier in recent weeks, and I think if the team achieved promotion then the crowd figures would rise.

The small crowd thing is a stick used by a lot of other fans to hit Boreham Wood with. But doesn’t that make what Boreham Wood have achieved so much better? There are a number of big clubs in the National League with high average attendances and they would love to swap league positions with the Wood at the moment.

I think the Wood could survive in League 2. It would be a struggle, yet I honestly think league football would attract a few more fans, and the extra money coming into the club due to league status would help a lot in terms of budgeting. Fortunately matches aren’t decided on attendances, anyway, and it’s good to dream big.

Which opposition clubs/players have impressed you most?

I really enjoyed the Barrow match back in January. It was a good test for the Wood, against a very strong team, and the fact that the Wood held their own and possibly should have won, proved to me that the club had a real shot at making the play-offs. Barrow might have one eye over their shoulders now, though, with Harrogate breathing down their necks. I do wonder if fans of clubs like Plymouth, Exeter and Carlisle keep an eye on National League matters, as obviously Barrow being promoted would be a pain for the Devon-based clubs and result in a quite refreshing short away trip for Carlisle.

I do struggle to remember anything that happened more than three weeks ago – again my son can confirm this – but in recent weeks Hartlepool’s Gime Toure caused me a lot of anxious moments in the 1-1 draw at Meadow Park, and Barnet keeper Scott Loach proved annoying in the 2-2 draw in Edgware. As a keeper in my younger days, I’ve secretly admired Loach before when he played superbly for Hartlepool against Boreham Wood. I’d still take Nathan Ashmore over him though, but I am biased.

And finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday afternoon?

It’s about time we got one over on Torquay, after the two defeats this season. My predictions are mostly terrible, but I think it will be a close one again. I’ll go for a 2-1 win for the Wood, but seeing as I tipped Chesterfield, Wrexham and Fylde to go well in the league this season, I wouldn’t put your mortgage on it!

LAST TIME AT MEADOW PARK…

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torquaytalk.com – @TORQUAYTALK

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