Bluebirds boss Mark Cooper reacts to the release of the League Two fixtures and also gives his thoughts on the Club's transfer business this week.
Hello everyone and welcome to my Fixture Release Day Blog!
I am travelling to meet with the coaching staff later today, but I was sent the fixtures early on by the Club Secretary, so I have had a little time to digest them.
It’s a tough game to start. Stevenage had a brilliant second half to last season, showing promotion form really, and it’s always a tough game down there but one that we will look forward to. It will give us an early marker as to where we will be and how competitive we can be.
The first home game against Hartlepool United is a good one – it’s their first away trip since coming back into the league so I am sure the Poolies will travel in numbers for it. I know they will be looking forward to the season and it’s not too far from Barrow so I am sure it will have a good feeling to the game. Hopefully we can get a big crowd and get off to a good start at home.
I have picked out the Carlisle United game in November and I am really looking forward to sampling my first Cumbrian derby. I know Chris Beech very well having played with him and he oversaw a good season there last year and I am sure they will want to progress. Local derbies are always good games so it’s exciting.
I think in terms of travelling, it’s been reasonably kind to us in the early stages of the season (until that Tuesday night trip to Forest Green!!) but, to be honest, we’ll prepare in the right way for every single game. There are no excuses – we have to make sure whoever we’re playing, we’re ready and give ourselves the best chance of winning the game whether it’s Bristol Rovers or Exeter City away, or somewhere more local.
The Boxing Day game at Tranmere Rovers is a good one, isn’t it? I think they will be strong this year – they’ve got Mickey Mellon back and he’s signed some good players so that will be a tough one. But it will be a great atmosphere with the Super White Army in full voice and hopefully a brilliant Barrow following too so I will be looking forward to it! Coming back home after that to host Oldham Athletic and Bradford City sounds like a really exciting way to round off the festive period.
The last game of the season at home to Northampton Town has the potential to be a cracker too. I know they’ve just come down so they will be keen to challenge for a return to League One immediately. They’re a big club for the division and have recruited well but let’s hope we can spoil any party that day!
It’s a proper league isn’t it, with proper clubs? And that’s why it’s so important that when we get back into training next week we start properly and work really hard. We have to use the five weeks we have to make sure we’re ready - so we’ve got some work to do.
Away from the fixtures, I have been pleased to get a bit more business done this week – starting with the new contract for Kgosi Ntlhe. Left-sided defenders, whether they’re left-backs or left centre-backs, are really rare. If you have one on your doorstep who knows the Club and is a good player, it makes sense to try and get it done so that’s what we did.
I think KG, by his own admission, needs to play more games or be available for more games so that’s something we’re going to work on with him in pre-season. If we can keep him available, then he’s a really good player for us at the level.
Josh Lillis also signed his new deal which is great. I spoke to Josh a long while back when I first came to the Club, and I felt it was important we kept that continuity with him. He knows the club and he’s keen to coach as well as keep playing and provide some competition in the goalkeeping department so that’s great for me. That kills two birds with one stone so it’s a perfect fit for the Club.
Then finally, Joe Grayson signed for us on Thursday and that’s a deal I am really happy to get finalised. He’s a player I tried to sign at Forest Green; he’s very versatile, has a great left foot and is very aggressive. He can play in a number of positions from midfield, to centre-back, to left-back, to wing-back and he’s a big lad so just a good player for us.
The other thing about Joe is that he’s very hungry to do well, you can sense that determination. Obviously, he comes from good stock, and I have known his dad for a while and he’s a player I’ve liked for a while. He played in League One last year so he’s another good addition for us.
That’s all for now – speak soon!