The 2013/14 campaign is now well under way, with divisions beginning to take shape.
Here at Sky Sports we will look to take you to the very heart of the Sky Bet Football League over the coming months, with our Spotlight features intended to give you a greater insight into the clubs and players that keep us on the edge of our seats.
We hope to bring you the views and thoughts of a representative from each of the 72 teams over the course of the season, with those involved asked to give their take on the division they compete in, the club that pays their wages and those we should all be keeping an eye on.
Burton Albion's Gary Rowett is next into the hot-seat, with the Brewers boss taking time out to discuss improvements on the road and FA Cup carrots with Chris Burton.
You've just gone through the halfway stage in your season, how would you sum up how things have gone?
I think we're pleased. If you had said at the start of the season that after losing in the play-off semi-final and that after half of the season we would be sat in second place and looking like a competitive League Two side again, then we would be very happy. I think the other thing with that is we lost our two most influential players in the summer and had to recruit again. It's always a worry that you lose one or two star players and you might not be able to replace them, but we seem to have coped quite well and we're quite pleased with how the first half of the season has gone. I wish I was here saying we were second after the second half of the season but unfortunately we have got that to play.
Like you say, you lost Maghoma and Zola over the summer and they took a lot of goals out of your side - is that an area which remains a work in progress this season?
I think so. What I have to realise is that by taking something like 36 goals out of the team with those two players, we certainly had to improve in a different area. It's very difficult to find a left winger who is going to score you 18 goals, so we're well aware that we might have to try and do something different. One of the most obvious chances was to try and be more solid defensively. We have had a problem with that since we have been in the league, we've always featured high on the goals against column, so we needed to be a lot more solid, keep more clean sheets and concede less goals. We have done that so far. We are pleased with how that has progressed. We have created chances in attack, we just haven't had as many players scoring. That's something we'll look to see if we can advance in the second half of the season. More goals from different places in the team is something that we will look at and see if we can improve on.
And is that something you will look to address with the transfer window open?
It's something we're already trying to address. I think most sides in our division will be looking at attacking players to see if they can give them more options and add more firepower. We're always a work in progress and we're always trying to see if we can just become a little bit better each week and each month. Whether that is working with the existing players or whether that is bringing players in...I think the key thing for us is that we've lost Rory Delap to retirement and Adam Reed has left the club last week, so we are two bodies down and we'll look to see if we can use those spaces to fill with players that we need or players that we think will improve us.
You had a wobble in September didn't you, but it's better to have such runs early isn't and then really kick on from there?
We have. I think as a form team in that month we were bottom of the form league over the four games. There was a reason for it - three of those games we played with 10 men for more than half of the match. That was something we had to address, some were stupid and some were unlucky. We had a bit of a bad run with some decisions off the officials, but we came out of the other side of that. In four out of the five months we have been very, very consistent. I think we were very consistent over the second half of last season and if you were to add that to the first half of this season, I think that points tally will win you the league. We've just got to try and maintain it, we've got to make sure we don't have another big blip like September and we've got to try and push on. There are no guarantees, there are a lot of competitive sides in this division that I'm sure will be looking to add a bit of extra firepower or extra strength to the squad in January, so we won't be alone.
When I spoke to you at the end of last season, the away form was another area you were hoping to address, and that's heading in the right direction isn't it - six wins on the road?
Yeah, we've already improved on last season. Again, we knew that our home form would be very hard to replicate - we had the best home record in all four divisions last season, including the Premier League, in terms of how many games we won at home. We knew we had to improve away and being a bit more solid and being better away from home came hand in hand in terms of the characters we've recruited, the type of players, and we knew we had to improve our home form as well at the start of the season. We've done that, our home form has improved and we've maintained our away form. There is a decent recipe for us to build on in the second half of the season. But, again, you know in this game, and in League Two particularly, that you are never far away from two or three defeats on the spin which can suddenly bring your season in the wrong direction. We've just got to keep trying to improve and have that desire to keep building and keep being a better team - wherever we finish, that's what will happen.
The recent run has come at a really good time, though, hasn't it - 10 games unbeaten through Christmas says a lot about the character of the team, with the games coming so quickly?
Absolutely. We haven't got the biggest squad, but we've got a very good squad. It's a very competitive squad and we haven't had to utilise that as much as I thought we might over Christmas. I think sometimes that strength in depth pushes the players and the team to keep performing. We have had some players who have come into really good form over a crucial time. That's all you can do, keep trying to win the games in front of you. We are now into January, we have started pretty well, and we just have to see if we can maintain that and kick on. We're certainly not one of the teams that might lose one or two players and it start to have a real impact. There will be teams in our division that it is always going to be hard to maintain what they've done over the first half due to funds and budgets. I think we're quite competitive in that sense and we'll keep trying to push and see where we can finish up.
And a manager of the month nomination is a nice reward for yourself and the club as a whole?
I think so. I think we have been nominated for four out of the five months, which I think is testament to the players. It's a Manager of the Month nomination, but people don't come down and look at what the managers are doing day-to-day, so really it's the results of the month and therefore it has to be the team of the month. That's what it is, an accolade for the team and the players. We have done the right things and we've just got to hope that we continue to be up for these rewards, because it means we're doing well. Four out of five nominations shows what real consistency we have had to the team over this half of the season.
You had a frustrating time in the cup at the weekend with the weather, but the carrot has been well and truly dangled now hasn't it with the draw?
I think so. You can look at it two ways - you can say it's a massive carrot for us, but I'm sure for Bournemouth it will be the same for them. Regardless of what size club you are or what division you are in, I think everyone would like to play Liverpool at home - for financial reasons and obviously the kudos of the tie. It will add a little bit of extra incentive, but I'm sure Bournemouth will be very keen to get through and to beat a Championship side away from home in the cup is going to be a big ask. But we've done it before, we did it against Leicester in the Capital One Cup, and we've shown that we are capable of doing it in cup competitions. We'll try our very, very best to see if we can cause a bit of an upset.
Does it help your cause having a game with Liverpool to aim at or does it hinder you in the sense that Bournemouth now have a bit more to play for and are less likely to take their eye off the ball?
It certainly would have been easier for them to rest four or five players if the game had gone ahead on Saturday. I think now that might be slightly less likely. But I'm sure that, as a Championship side, you will always be looking to give one or two a bit of game time if you can get away with it against a League Two side. I don't know is the honest truth. Until we see the game, until we see what side Eddie (Howe) puts out, but he's got to look at players down there and they have been going well in the Championship. They aren't a massive club, so I take my hat off to what they've done. We'll see who it lifts more and who it does more for. I'll only know that when the final whistle goes.
Promotion is very much the priority for you, and for the club to go from non-league to possibly League One in five years - and for you to have been there throughout - must be very pleasing and offer a great sense of pride?
I have seen what the club has achieved over a long period of time - I have been around this area for quite some time now. I think it's certainly a club that whoever is part of it should be proud of. It's run fantastically well by the chairman and also the staff within it. It's a club that you have seen from the response the Bournemouth fans have given us - with raising money for our fans after the way they were treated when they won promotion from League Two a few years back - it shows what type of club it is, it tries to do the right things and is being run in the right way. We like to think that we have got something quite good going on here. There are going to be some ups and downs over the few seasons ahead I'm sure, but it's a really stable club and it's great to be a part of.