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Aveley's 2013 with Justin Gardner.

Aveley's 2013 with Justin Gardner.

Scott Hatley31 Dec 2013 - 16:23
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With 2013 drawing to a close we caught up with manager Justin Gardner, to discuss his highs and lows of the year, as well as his aspirations for 2014.

Justin, it’s been a topsy-turvy year for the Millers, but what would you say has been the highlight of 2013 for you?

That’s easy – making the play-offs.

I think it was a fantastic achievement in our first full season and I had a tremendous squad with bundles of ability. You just have to look at where some of our players from last season are now to see how good of a squad we had.

Another high point was taking Jordan Cox from practically nowhere, playing reserve football, and going on to score 28 goals for us last season earning him a contract at Braintree Town.

Jay Leader as well – he was in the Ryman team of the year, won players player, fans’ player awards and to keep him out of all the players we had last years was great. He has the ability to step up to a much higher level but to keep him was a massive positive.

Despite all the positives this year, there have been some low points. What would you say was your lowest point of 2013?

I’d have to say last the last five-six weeks which has been the most difficult period of my managerial career. I’ve probably not had to work as hard as I have been these last few weeks, trying to change things and see where I’ve gone wrong and improve them.

I’ve tried getting the right balance and the right people in, and I feel that we’re turning a corner now. This period has been much tougher than when I took over and we were dead and buried in the Premier. That was a win/win situation for me because nothing was expected.

Considering that we were in 4th when we beat Erith last month, it’s been a tough, tough time.

Are there any particular matches that stand out, for good or bad reasons?

The game away at AFC Sudbury in January stands out as it started our longest winning run of 2013. We played poorly first half and went in 2-1 down but to come back and win 3-2 was a great result and set us on a run.

Tilbury away as well in late January was a massive game for us. Horrible, windy conditions and I remember at half time thinking we had lost our chance because we had had the wind behind us and not scored. But the second half was possibly the best 45 minutes of the season.

Our draw away at Heybridge at the back end of last season was massively important for us as it practically guaranteed our playoff spot, and then the home game against Redbridge, where Jack Stevenson scored the winner just before half time to confirm our playoff place were highlights.

The opening day win against Wroxham from this season was a particular highlight. We’d lost practically our entire squad over the summer and didn’t really know a lot about Wroxham who had ended last season well. So to go 1-0 down and still win 6-1 was a real high point and we went on a good run after that, although we weren’t playing well.

Another one from this season was the draw with Needham Market. They were the best team we’ve faced this year and considering our form going into that one a point was a great result for us.

One of the biggest disappointments was drawing 0-0 away at Maldon in March after playing them off the park. Their goalkeeper was inspired that day.

Certainly the F.A. Cup game with Canvey Island was a low, we practically gift wrapped them the game giving them three penalties. I at least wanted to give them a game.

And, no disrespect to them, but losing at home to Waltham Forest was a tough one to take. I know no one has the right to win a football match but that day showed that hard work beats talent because they worked a lot harder than we did and got the win.

After that game I got rid of a lot of players who may not have been willing to work as hard and just thought their talent would shine through.

Aveley have had a fair few players come through the doors in 2013, who would you say was your star man of the past 12 months?

It has to be Jay Leader. Apart from a two week period at the beginning of this season he’s never missed a game. He’s Mr Consistent, a big player and you know what you’re going to get from him week in week out.

Funnily enough I said to him before our game against Wroxham that for a player of his size and ability he should be scoring more goals for us and then he pops up and scores two in injury time to win us the game.

Who would you say has made the biggest impact on your squad?

Billy Holland, by far. He’s a leader, a winner, and demands 100%. He’s a manager’s dream because he is a manager on the pitch and he makes my job so much easier when he is on the field.

Having him back in training now is great news for us and it’ll be great to have him back in the squad in the New Year.

On the other side I can’t hide how disappointing it was to lose Victor Renner from my staff. There’s a reason why we didn’t start so great this season and him not being here played a massive part. He would have probably been my best signing if I would have kept him this season.

One of the surprise moments of 2013 was the video of Petrit Elbi’s winner against Harlow and Neil Collins’ subsequent ‘commentary’ going viral: What did it mean for a club the size of Aveley to have that sort of exposure?

I was completely taken aback by it all. Over 100,000 people from all over the world saw it on YouTube alone, and what a great way to win a football match. A draw probably would have been a fair result and then we get that free kick so that was certainly one of our highlights, which was made better by the commentary.

It’s been an inconsistent 2013/14 with the Millers currently lying 12th, but how would you assess the season so far?

My own personal view is I’m disappointed because I want to be up there challenging. The realistic view is we’ve lost pretty much a whole squad and last year it was easier to keep players when we were up there because money became secondary to wanting to win things.

When you struggle players take their eye off the ball and don’t believe we can get where we were last year so money comes into the equation which is disappointing, but you don’t really want those players playing for you anyway.

I found out this season that people were living in the past. I could sing from the rooftops that I overachieved and that on the finances we had we shouldn’t have been anywhere, but I don’t. I continue to look forward.

The only thing that other squads have is they have had their team together for months, where as I’ve had mine for weeks. I don’t have trouble finding quality players but I have no problem with rebuilding a team.

I understand it’s disappointing for the fans, the committee and so on having all this chopping and changing, but I act when I feel I need to, before it becomes a sinking ship and before it’s too late. I’ll always be proactive and hopefully at the end of the season people will say “Justin has done what he said he was going to.”

What are you aspirations for 2014? Do you feel a play-off place is still within reach?

I still think the play-offs are in reach, but right now I’m just thinking of the next game. You have to have something to aim for and I won’t have any one around me who thinks we can’t make the play-offs.

Realistically, on paper and financially, Aveley should be where they are, mid-table. But if anyone tells me that’s their ambition I won’t have them at my club.

I’ve had a massive overhall and completely changed the nucleus of my squad in the last few weeks, and I’m very happy with what I’ve got now and the last few games has seen the Aveley we know and have gotten used to return.

I’m saying I want to finish in the play-offs until it’s mathematically impossible.

How would you sum up 2013?

There have certainly been more ups than downs this year. Having scored over 100 goals in 2013 we certainly have been value for money and we’ve only not scored in one game so far this season.

We’ve had a lot of players move onto a higher level which is a great achievement, but we have had a number who have made sideways moves which is disappointing, but out of my hands.

In terms of players coming to the club to use Aveley as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, I’m all for that, if they are willing to come here, work hard and earn us points.

If my players give me an honest performance and work hard for me I’ll be happy. I’m proud of all the players who have played for me and of those that have gone up to a higher level.

I will keep looking forward and I’m really pleased with the bunch that I’ve got who are willing to learn and have a good pedigree. We’ve just got to get behind them and support them, and I believe we’re going in the right direction.

It’s been difficult replacing Victor – Adam Flanagan done really well before taking up the Brentwood job and we have Mickey Leslie in now who like me is passionate and committed, and I’m really happy with him so far.

Finally, I’d just like to thank the supporters, committee members and everyone involved at the club for their hard work in 2013.

Hopefully 2014 will be all positive and we’ll have something to sing about come the end of the season. The aim is to keep breaking barriers and hitting targets we set.

Aveley's 2013
Played: 54 Won: 26 Drawn: 8 Lost: 20 Scored: 109 Conceded: 88 Average Goals Per Game: 2.02

Top Scorers:
Jordan Cox 18
Junior Appiah 12
Jay Leader 10

Biggest Win:
Saturday 31st August: 7-0 vs Waltham Forest (h)

Biggest Defeat:
Saturday 9th November: 1-5 vs Dereham Town (a)

Longest Winning Run: 6 Games
5/1 3-2 vs AFC Sudbury (a)
12/1 5-1 vs Chatham Town (h)
26/1 3-1 vs Ware (h)
29/1 3-1 vs Tilbury Town (a)
13/2 2-1 vs Cheshunt (h)
16/2 3-1 vs Witham Town (h)

Longest Run Without a Win: 5 Games
7/9 1-2 vs Tilbury Town (a)
9/9 2-3 vs Maldon & Tiptree (h)
14/9 2-5 vs Canvey Island (h)
21/9 3-4 vs Soham Town Rangers (a)
24/9 1-2 vs Thurrock (a)

Further reading