Smith reflects on three years at the helm as he goes back to where it all started...IT WAS three years ago this week that Dean Smith, who was then the club's Head of Youth, was asked to step in as caretaker manager following the departure of Chris Hutchings.
Ironically, his opponents back then were the same as this weekend as we faced a trip to Prenton Park to take on Tranmere Rovers.
On that occasion, Matt Richards gave us the lead just past the half-hour mark only for the scoreline to be turned on its head before half-time as our hosts went in at the break 2-1 up.
Worse was to follow when Rovers extended their lead ten minutes into the second period but Smith’s side dug in and showed a never-say-die attitude which eventually reaped its reward when Jon Macken pulled a goal back with five minutes to go and then skipper, Andy Butler, grabbed a stoppage time leveller.
It was a roller-coaster ride of emotions for everyone involved as Smith got gripped by the managerial bug and took the job on a permanent basis a couple of weeks later as he guided the club away from the bottom of the table and completed the ‘Great Escape’.
“That first season was all about survival,” he said. “The situation was looking grim when I was asked to step in and, trailing 3-1 in that first game, I did wonder what I had let myself in for.
“But the players rolled their sleeves up and gave me everything. They had to show great character to get a point out of my first game at the helm and this continued for the remaining matches as we clawed ourselves out of the relegation zone.
“The second season was all about making ourselves difficult to beat and we managed to do that as 20 draws from our 46 League games would suggest.
“We then progressed with our ‘football philosophy’ during the course of last season and into the current campaign and the fruits of our labours are there for all to see.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position and are able to plan ahead by securing some of our key players on longer-term deals, the latest of which was Richard O’Donnell on Thursday.
“This is great credit to the Chairman and Board of Directors who have backed me and allowed me to start building something here.
“Whilst we must never lose sight of the next game, we also have to be able to look ahead to the future and I have been allowed to do that."
Incidentally, only Andy Butler and Julian Gray – albeit after a spell away – remain at the club from the team that Dean Smith picked for his first game in charge.