Charlton AthleticSport

The inside track on new Charlton manager Ben Garner’s managerial approach at Bristol Rovers and Swindon

What can Charlton Athletic fans expect to see from Ben Garner? Here two men who covered him at his previous clubs provide insight.

Sam Frost, Bristol Rovers reporter for Bristol Live
“He’s a very modern, progressive coach. The coaching acumen he gained at Crystal Palace could be seen at Rovers. Players were known to enjoy his training and find it engaging.

“Some old-school managers can have an approach that is bland or seem pointless but there was a lot of buy-in to what Ben was trying to do on the training ground.

“His style is possession based and playing in the opposition’s half. He didn’t necessarily execute that at Rovers but I saw his Swindon side a couple of times last season and they definitely played in his image – they had the highest possession percentage in League Two. League One is a tough league to do that in if you haven’t got the players to do that.

“The recruitment side at Rovers, which wasn’t entirely in his hands and was more a joint operation, there were a few mistakes made there and that left holes in the team which made it hard. They didn’t get off to a good start.

“It led to him being sacked perhaps a little bit prematurely but he couldn’t have too many arguments at the time because he hadn’t quite imprinted the style in the way he did do at Swindon a year later.

“I don’t think he is married to any one formation and that side of the game is his bread and butter – he can set a team up. At Rovers it was a lot of 3-4-3. The plan was a single striker and a couple of attacking midfielders or wingers off that. The aim was to dominant possession and play it in the opposition’s half.

“He was also quite interested in a box midfield. That’s what Coventry played when they won League One – he signed Zain Westbrooke from them.

“He isn’t going to play 4-4-2 and whack it long. It is going to be a progressive brand of football.

“He certainly got off to a very difficult start at Rovers. He had some very difficult personal circumstances, none of his fault, after just a few weeks which saw him take three or four weeks of leave. And he came into the club at the absolute apex of how it performed. They think they were fourth in League One when he took over.

“Graham Coughlan, the previous manager, had done really well with a relatively humble squad, in terms of resources, but had Jonson Clark-Harris up front. It was a bit of an acrimonious departure, he didn’t necessarily feel he had been backed by the club and he went to Mansfield, who were in the league below.

“So Garner was taking over a team that was almost at its apex and also he had a completely different philosophy. Coughlan was much more functional – he had a defence first mindset. He inherited a squad that didn’t suit and the club knew that. They wanted to transition to a more attractive brand of football, that was Ben’s job.

“He went a long time without winning a game. He took over just before Christmas and his first win came around Valentine’s Day. A couple more poor results after that…they played Sunderland just before we went into Covid and beat them at home, there was a feel-good factor and it felt like the style had really clicked for the first time.

“That gave the club pause to back him in the summer. He came through a very rocky time and there was a lot of optimism that summer because the fans could recognise that the recruitment was adventurous and progressive, no necessarily in terms of splashing the cash – but they clearly wanted to play attacking football in a modern image of dominating possession, score lots of goals and create lots of chances.

“There was rhetoric about wanting to be in the top half of the table and it never quite materialised. They played Sunderland the first game back and got a draw there, although they dominated the game, but some difficult results followed. They didn’t start great but had some time in the Autumn where it did pick up, they went unbeaten in something like four games and won three of them, and got into the top half or mid-table. It felt like it was starting to click but then it just fell apart very, very quickly after that.

“I know there were probably some recruitment decisions that weren’t universally agreed by all parties – that happens at every football club. It’s not a justified reason for why it crumbled like it did. It ended in dismal fashion against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood. They lost 4-1 in November and he was sacked within an hour of the game.

“I think the over-riding feeling afterwards was disappointment from fans. I think it was viewed as the right decision, once it was taken, but some fans were gutted it didn’t work because they had bought into the whole project. They liked the sound of the plan and the ideas being talked about – in theory – but the execution and then putting it into practise didn’t materialise as they liked.”

Jonny Leighfield, reporter for Swindon Advertiser

“He is very much keep ball, his absolute priority is possession. For a while they were scoring their goals in the second half when teams got tired.

“If it worked it was brilliant and if it didn’t, particularly at home when the results were poor in the first half of the season, then the fans would get quite frustrated.

“He has got no time for teams that lump it long or find a more direct route.

“At the start he played 5-3-2 which worked brilliantly away from home, we didn’t lose a game away until December. It worked perfectly for the counter attack -you can keep the ball and not leave yourself vulnerable. But at home it was more negative, in terms of finding spaces going forward.

“He did eventually change it, I’m not sure if that was down to pressure from media and the fans, but he switched to 4-3-3. When you’ve got the calibre of player that Town had last season it worked so much better.

“Maybe he’s learned a bit and that may help it work out for him at Charlton.

“He did a good job overall. He pulled the fans around with results. When he came in they had about 10 senior professionals, at most. They were one of the fittest teams in the league, they showed that as well when they kept up with Manchester City in the FA Cup.

“He did well with Ben Chorley [director of football], I don’t know how they got the quality of players in they did, like Louis Reed – he’d be the one that fans would least like to lose. They did remarkably well and signed very few duff ones.”

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