GARY’S GOT US ON REMOTE!
HARRY Pell is unashamedly honest. The Cheltenham players felt lost without Gary Johnson at the helm.
Yet, despite the manager’s continued absence from the sidelines, Pell is adamant Johnson is also the reason for their recent turnaround.
The veteran boss underwent triple heart bypass surgery in March, and a run of four Cheltenham losses followed.
Yet regular FaceTime calls with the squad, a hastilyarranged trip for Pell and the club’s strikers to the recovering Johnson’s Portishead house, and the 61-year-old’s subsequent decision to switch from a 3-5-2 formation to 4-2-4 have paid dividends.
Two wins and two draws lifted the Robins five points clear of relegation before the weekend and, although assistant Russell Milton is still in charge on matchdays, midfielder Pell admits Johnson is still a huge presence.
“It’s been a bit of a weird feeling with our leader, the gaffer, not being present,” said Pell. “Most of us haven’t experienced this before.
“There was a bit of a rally, to do it for him. We had four bad results, then changed shape and have won two and drawn two.
“We struggled for those four games. We looked and felt lost, but we’ve had some meetings as a group. We’ve changed the shape and, thankfully, it is paying off.
“Everyone who knows Gary Johnson knows he’s involved in everything and hands on every single day.
“For such a big character not to be there – especially when we’re in the situation that we’re in – has not been ideal. “But we’ve been having Face-Time calls with him and, even though he’s not been well, he invited a few of us to his house after that fourth consecutive loss. “We sat in his living room to discuss everything, and that shows how much it means to him. He is such a footballing man.
“Though he’s been at home, and even when he was in hospital, he has been watching all our games while training has been recorded. He’s still very much hands-on.”
Johnson is not expected back on the sidelines before the end of the season, but the impact of his tactical tinkering from afar has been felt by Pell in particular.
A lifelong central midfielder, the 25-year-old was switched to the right wing in the new 4-2-4 formation and has responded with four goals in the past four games – the best goalscoring spell of his career.
“It’s a weird position for me. I’ve never played there before, but I give good energy to the team,” explained Pell. “It’s ideal for the situation we’re in.
“I’ve never scored this many goals in a season before (he’d netted nine ahead of yesterday’s trip to Blackpool), but I’m enjoying my football and it’s nice to score a few at last! The move has freed me up and given me a licence to do whatever I want really, especially going forward.
“I’ve never played there before, so I’m probably a bit unorthodox. I don’t know too well what I’m doing. But if I don’t know, then the opposition definitely don’t!”
The turnaround has also coincided with the return of holding midfielder Kyle Storer from a ban, and the 29-year-old has taken the skipper’s armband off Pell.
Relinquishing the captaincy appears to have lightened the former AFC Wimbledon man’s load, so does he agree that’s the reason for his recent hot streak?
“I think it’s a coincidence, but I can see why people are saying that,” admitted Pell. “Kyle has come back in and sits in front of the back four so that’s what has given me the licence to express myself a little bit more.
“I know a lot has been said about the captaincy being taken off me but it’s not a problem – if the team is doing well, I’m happy.”
MISSING YOU: Harry Pell felt the absence of manager, Gary Johnson inset