Hugh Sullivan asked questions of United manager Chris Agutter shortly before the match with Sittingbourne last Saturday. He is never afraid to give straight answers

HS: You’ve explained in the past that your style of playing out from the back aims to bring opponents forward and exploit space behind. Doesn’t it put greater pressure on your own defenders and cause the loss of cheap goals?

CA: I think there’s a wrong conception about playing out from the back. We don’t do it because it looks good. We do it because it’s effective. And if there’s a perception that it leads to us giving away cheap goals, that’s wrong. We’ve only conceded two goals all season from it.  But we have had to adapt. Early season, teams came and pressed us high, thinking that was the way to beat us. They didn’t succeed. Our early results prove it. But then in the last couple of months teams have realised it’s not a good idea to press us high, instead they’ve stood off us and gone for a block in midfield. So we’ve changed. We’re getting to the final third quicker, hitting balls diagonally, and pressing higher so as to pin teams in their own half. Yes, in November and early December we struggled a bit, but in the last three games we’ve been in control more or less throughout. We’ve conceded only one goal in these, and Charlie [Horlock, the goalkeeper] has hardly had a save to make. 

HS: Obviously you need a first team squad of up to, say, 22 players to cope with injuries, suspensions, loss of form etc. But are you under pressure to rotate in order to keep players happy?

CA: I don’t have clashes with any of my experienced players. That’s because I explain everything, I make things clear. For a Saturday game I’ll get the scouting report in on the opposition, I’ll monitor physical fitness and training performance, and I’ll generally name the team on Thursday.  Players don’t have to like every decision I make, but they can see that there’s a thought process behind it.

HS: The aim at the beginning of the season seemed to be not only to maintain a certain style of play but ensure a settled team by awarding contracts for all the key players. You talked of Sinnkaye Christie and Dayshonne Golding as such players  – and they were popular with supporters – yet during the course of the season you have let them leave. Why?

CA: Sinnkaye and Dayshonne
are still in contract with Hastings. They’re young players and still developing. It’s good for them to
be getting experience at higher level clubs.  Both have big potential. But right now I need centre backs who won’t give any goals away,
and forwards who can make and score goals. If there’s someone
who can do those things better
for this season, then I’ll go for
them. Yussuf Bamba has come in and set up and made more goals
in eight games than Dayshonne
in double that. We’ve kept more clean sheets without Sinnkaye than with him.

HS: When supporters have queried your team selections, particularly after an adverse result, you have often referred in post-match interviews
to performances or attitudes
in training which justify preference for one player over another. I can see that this may motivate players to train harder. But in the end it’s team performances on the pitch which count, isn’t it? 

CA: I don’t really care what supporters think about my team selections. They should come and watch us train. We don’t just turn up, run up and down Elphinstone Road and then play five-a-side.
It’s serious and planned.  Players are paid to train as well as to play matches. They play football
for maybe eight hours a week, less than 25% of that is during
a match. 

And if the players don’t train, they’re not fit to play matches. Sam Cruttwell was our best player in the match before Christmas against VCD. But then he didn’t train, so I left him out of the Boxing Day starting line-up against Sevenoaks. He didn’t moan about that, he understood why.  I brought him on as sub,
and he scored the winner.
As far as I’m concerned that’s good management. Sam’s now producing some of the best football he ever has for Hastings.

HS: Is there anything that has upset you in the season so far?

CA: I would like some of our supporters to show a little more understanding, particularly after a bad result. The players all read what’s written in the media and take it to heart. When, say, Jamie Fielding sees himself being slaughtered on social media for making one mistake or having one bad game, what do you think that does to him? Negativity doesn’t help anyone. We’re averaging over two points a game, that should be celebrated.

HS: What’s the most pleasing thing for you about the season so far?

CA: After the Brighton game [the last time the team was defeated, in a Sussex Senior Cup match which was lost 4-0] my assistant manager Andrew Brown told me he thought some of the players were taking things too easy, failing to take responsibility. I agreed, and I told them so. I’m proud of their reaction since then, given how young and inexperienced they are: the average age is 19 or 20, and they can only get better.

I’m really proud that Adam [Lovatt] has been going to Leeds and Brighton for trials. Individual development gives me a lot of pleasure. So does the attention we get in football circles for the type of football we play and the fact that we’re winning with it.

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