Two-nil down, a man down and with the public mood heading in much the same direction at half-time yesterday, Fleet boss Kevin Watson acknowledged the discontent ringing in his ears as he departed to somehow convince his troops to mount a rally in the second period.
That they did exactly that defied even his expectations in a game where he considered a 2-0 reverse at half-time to be something of a let-off.
“I’m actually glad we only went in 2-0 down,” he told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster. “It feels like a victory for us after being 2-0 down. We could have been completely out of it and the second-half goes one of two ways. You come out and perhaps lose 2-0 but with your head held high and put on a performance. Or you go and get an absolute tonking and it’s gone more than I could ever think it would have gone. We played with 10 men in exactly the right manner and exactly how I asked.”
Fleet got off to their slowest start since Watson’s arrival at the club and it was the exact opposite to the manager’s instructions in approaching the game.
“That’s the poorest half of football we’ve had since I’ve been at the club,” he admitted. “We were not at the races. We were meant to have the fast start and that didn’t materialise. They were all over us, same system as we played, yet to a man they were better. One to 11 or whatever number you wear these days, they were just so much better than us.
“But there was no excuses for that first half, we were flat, it wasn’t good enough. So we had words at half-time, decided the best way to approach the second-half was not to go gung-ho. I know you can hear people saying get up the pitch and get forward. It’s easier said than done. The boys carried out what we asked them to do second-half perfectly but the slow start has cost us.
“That shows the mentality, the work ethic of these lads. They didn’t stop for the whole 94 minutes and I think we got our just desserts for an outstanding second-half. We changed the shape, I told them not to go chasing the ball, eventually with Hartlepool their midfield can drop in, they can go deep, I didn’t really care because they’re going to have to come to you at some point. And then they started getting sloppy and we started nicking the ball. Our shape was good and I think we deserved a point, simple as that based on the second-half.”
At 2-1 down from the sidelines, the Fleet boss could be seen roaring instructions as Myles Weston eyed up what proved to be the equalising free-kick.
“I’ve taken free-kicks with my right foot in that sort of area and you don’t look at your attacking players, you look at that far post area,” Watson said. “All you do is make sure you miss that man in the hole. So all I was saying was miss the man in the hole, you haven’t got to smash it or really hit it with pace. If you miss that first player, it will automatically go into a dangerous area.
“How many times do you see that? Because a keeper can’t move until there’s either a touch or there’s no touch and by that time it’s too late. It was a perfect delivery; I often see people trying to whip it from that area. You don’t have to, just put it into an area with quality, which Westy did there, and that’s what happens. Westy’s got great abillity, he took his first goal ever so well, waited for the keeper to lie down and lifted it over him. He’s been outstanding this season.”
It was the Fleet manager’s first league game in a permanent role but the status of his job hasn’t really changed an awful lot in Watson’s day-to-day and matchday approach.
“No, there’s not been much difference,” he said. “It’s my team now, it’s no longer interim, you’ve no longer got the managers sitting in the stand behind you wanting you to fail and they’re putting their CVs in.
“But it’s still a learning process for everyone involved and I said to the boys, I watched over a game where a team was 2-0 down and tried to go 3-4-2 or something like that to get back in the game and within 10 minutes it’s 4-0 and then it’s 5-0 and I think it finished 5-0.
“So the main thing is to stay in it at the start of the second half. Frustrate and eventually you get chances and all credit to every one of these boys and I’m so proud of them.”