Four reasons why Michael Duff is thriving at Cheltenham Town

James Richards by James Richards / 22 October 2019, 09:11

There are a host of young managers in League One and Two who have been given an opportunity to show they have what it takes to be successful in one of the world’s most ruthless industries.

Being a football manager is a thankless task at the best of times but there aren’t many who wouldn’t jump at the chance to try it.

When Cheltenham appointed Michael Duff as the replacement for Gary Johnson in September 2018, it was seen as a risky move for the League Two outfit but just over a year later it has proven to be an inspired decision.

We take a look at why the former Burnley defender has been so successful thus far at Whaddon Road...

Clear ideas

Every manager worth his salt needs to have a clear idea about how he will set-up his side and Michael Duff has proven he has the courage of his convictions.

Going back to the club where he started his professional career it would have been easy to just tweak the good work done by Gary Johnson, but Duff has been definitive from the start.

The former-Northern Ireland international opted to play a 3-5-2 and has recruited the personnel to be able make the most of that system.

He has energetic forwards in the ever-green Luke Varney and tenacious Gavin Reilly with Alex Addai in reserve while the midfield trio of Ryan Broom, Jake Doyle-Hayes and Conor Thomas are mobile, creative and determined.

It is as the back that the former defender has really proven influential. Ben Tozer has improved hugely under Duff’s guidance, Charlie Raglan has been a superb addition while young Jacob Greaves is keeping Will Boyle out of the team. The Robins have conceded only 12 times in their opening 13 games – the third best defensive record in League Two.

Playing his best team

Chopping and changing the starting XI has been the downfall of many a manger but Michael Duff is happy to trust his players, picking his best team week-in-week-out helping to keep both consistency and momentum.

He is willing to change it when required and is certainly not inflexible but needless tinkering is not something high up on his to-do list.

Striking a balance

The risk of playing the 3-5-2 formation is two-fold. Firstly, and this is by far the most common issue, it can make a side dull to watch as the wing-backs often get pushed too deep meaning the side lack width and attacking impetus.

Secondly, committing the wide men too far forward can leave the back three exposed, allowing the opposition to exploit space in behind.

Duff has struck the perfect balance at Cheltenham with Chris Hussey and Sean Long able to offer an outlet when going forward, but also protection for the defence when out of possession. It is a hard balance to get right, but the Robins have so far got this spot on.

Understanding both sides of the game

Cheltenham’s home form has been superb with their last defeat at Whaddon Road coming back in January.

On their travels, however, the Robins have not always been able to recreate that same flowing football they produce when in Gloucestershire.

Just five wins on the road last season in 23 attempts and a run of five away games without a goal carrying over into this campaign was in danger of holding Cheltenham back.

Michael Duff was quick to realise that the problems lay in the mentality of the side and using his coaching team and video analysis he explained to his players why they were struggling on the road.

Lo and behold they are now four unbeaten away from home and showing the same confidence on the ball that has made Whaddon Road a fortress.

It is still early days, but Michael Duff is already proving he can be as successful in the dugout as he was as a player – a good sign for Cheltenham Town.

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