New Berwick manager John Coughlin refused to acknowledge his previous success of guiding the club to promotion in 2006/07 as he arrives for his second spell at Shielfield Park – but insisted that he will be aiming to instil traits from that side into the current squad.
Eight years after departing the ‘Gers soon after the club’s last promotion, the 52-year-old returned following Colin Cameron’s departure and watched from the directors’ box as his new side lost 2-1 at home to Stirling Albion on Saturday.
And with Steven Notman – on loan from Hibs in 06/07 – the only player Coughlin has previously worked with, he says it’s pointless mentioning his previous achievements at the club as he looks to start afresh in his first managerial role since leaving East Stirlingshire at the end of the 2013/14 season.
“It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past, and that includes the league-winning team,” said Coughlin. “That’s gone now. It was great then but now it’s a completely different team working under different parameters. We just have to make sure we get this team up and running and that’s where our energies will be.”
In his first spell, Coughlin built a strong, committed team including the likes of captain Grant McNicoll, Robbie Horn, Gary O’Connor, Gary Wood and Kevin Haynes, which helped him win 50 of his 85 matches at the helm. And he admits he’ll be looking for similar traits among the current playing squad.
“The team back then was more of a collective unit,” he said. “We didn’t have any stars. We had boys who’d pop the ball in the net on a regular basis but it was more about making sure we didn’t lose. That comes from good organisation and a great deal of determination. It took time to get that into that team and it’ll take time to get it into this team.”
Saturday’s defeat wasn’t the first time the new manager has seen the ‘Gers in action this season and, although he thinks some players may struggle to adapt to his demanding training methods, he is firmly of the opinion that he has a perfectly capable squad at his disposal.
“On first look, it’s clear that this side has a lot of good footballers and we’ll be making sure we get the best out of the players we’ve got here,” he said. “I haven’t seen all of the squad yet and obviously that’s a bit problematic as I’ve got to try and assess everyone very quickly while also trying to get results at the same time. It’s about trying to find a formula quickly and make sure I’ve got players who’ll buy into that because I’m quite demanding as a coach and I’m sure the players will be aware of that.
“But ability has to be matched with desire. A lot of the teams in this league, if not all of them, will have a sprinkling of players with ability but it’s making sure that, as a team, we’ve got the cumulative desire to win football matches and that’s what I have to try and instil in them.
“It’s up to me to make sure everybody’s tuned in to the way we want to play and the demands I’m going to put on them – and there are going to be plenty. Some players will fall by the wayside, and I thought it was the right thing to do to be up front with them and tell them that ‘this is how it is’ from now. The ones that find it hard going will be the ones that you find won’t play. Hopefully two or three weeks down the line though when we all get to know each other, my message will have got through.”
Coughlin admitted he wasn’t too impressed with the team’s attacking or defensive performances against Stirling, with Berwick’s goal coming via a 30-yard free-kick from Ewan McNeil, and says he already has ideas in place which he will look to implement in the two training sessions he has with the team before Saturday’s trip to Annan.
“We’re going to have to change it up the way we do things,” he said. “We need to be more aggressive certainly in the way we defend and also in attack. That’s the message that I’ve given the boys and that’ll start in my first training session.
“The way we tried to create goals wasn’t great and that’s something I need to look at because there’s plenty of firepower in the side with Blair and Darren. I’ve certainly got something in mind and that’s why it’s important that we get them in on Tuesday and Thursday to ensure that my message gets across. It’s only an hour-and-a-half in each session but that’s the nature of part-time football so we have to make the most of the valuable time we have with them.
“I’ve seen the 11-13 players that took part in the game and I’ll see the rest in training. What indicator I get from training is entirely up to them. If they’re busting a gut to try and make sure they’re in the team on Saturday, then there’s every chance they will be.”
And with the ‘Gers still only eight points behind table-toppers Annan despite being down in eighth place, Coughlin says he is fortunate to be taking on the position with still so much to play for in the league.
“There aren’t many managers who are lucky enough to get a job eight points off the top of the league,” he said. “That’s very unusual. I’m not bothered how many points we are off the bottom because our aim is to try and get as close to the top as possible and that’s what we’ll be putting all of our energy into.
“As far as I’m concerned, the season starts now. With a bit of luck and hard work, we’ll get going in the way we want to go.”
By Martin Inglis