The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Luke Baker

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.”

PIC­TURE: ProS­ports

MISS­ING YOU: Harry Pell felt the ab­sence of man­ager, Gary John­son in­set

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