Henman says relax and win
Relaxation will be the key to Dereham's title hopes, according to Magpies boss Matt Henman.
Dereham sit seven points clear of nearest rivals Wroxham and although their title charge has been put on hold by the big freeze, they are well placed to win the Premier Division for the first time in the club's history.
Henman said: 'Everyone else seems to be looking at our league position – we haven't talked about it that much. It's a relaxed dressing room with a lively, bubbly atmosphere and we're just going in to each game trying to win that particular match.
'There will come a time, around March, when people might start to get a bit tense but we'll deal with it then. Last season we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and it was a poor season, but this year we've been much more relaxed about it. We're playing well, winning games and enjoying it.'
While the weather has interrupted the Magpies' progress, Henman believes Dereham's rivals will suffer more than his team: 'The break has been okay for us because it's given us a chance to get one or two niggles out of the way, but Leiston are already behind in their fixtures and it certainly hasn't done them any favours,' he said.
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'Leiston have dropped fewer points than anyone at the moment and they have games in hand, but they still have to win them. There will come a time soon when they're playing twice a week right through to the end of the season and they still have their Vase tie to get out of the way.
'But the main plus for me is the fact that we are playing really well and if we continue to win games it doesn't really matter what anyone else does.
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'I'm conscious that we've already got through some tricky away games and at the moment seven of our last eight games are at home, so that helps.
'We've got some important games coming up against Leiston, Wroxham and Kirkley & Pakefield. We know how big those games are but we just need to carry on playing how we have been. The aim is to put ourselves in a position with seven or eight games to go where we can challenge for the title. That's as far ahead as we are looking at the moment.'
Henman credits the new attitude as a key factor in the improvement on last season, when Dereham were tipped to be title challengers but could only finish 10th: 'The main thing has been the way the team has gelled together,' he said.
'The new players have settled in well and the players who were already here have stepped it up a notch.
'There is a big belief within the team and that is a big difference to last season. You look at the game at Haverhill where they came back from 2-0 down to make it 2-2 – last season we would have thought 'that's not a bad point', but this season we made sure we won the game.
'Even when we're not playing so well we've got the capability of scoring goals and we're conceding fewer goals as well, so we've improved at both ends of the pitch.'
While leading goalscorer Danny Beaumont has been in eyecatching form, Henman is keen to credit the whole team for Dereham's outstanding start: 'The biggest reason we are where we are is not down to one or two players,' he said. 'We have goals and performances coming in all over the pitch, everyone is playing a part.'
Dereham's last league outing was the 2-0 win at Newmarket on November 20 and Henman is keen to make it a seamless transition when his side do eventually return to action. He said: 'It's important that we hit the ground running after this break and we carry on where we left off. Hopefully it will not have an adverse effect on our form because we have some important games coming up.
'We've been able to do a couple of training sessions in the snow and it's quite good fun, but you don't want too many of those because we need to get down to tactics and organisational work.
'To start with the snow is a bit of a novelty and you enjoy watching the TV on a Saturday afternoon, but after a couple of weeks you just want to get back out there.'
The frustration continued for Dereham on Tuesday night when their Norfolk Senior Cup clash at Gorleston was postponed again. The tie has now been rescheduled for this Saturday at Emerald Park.
While Henman can report a clean bill of health on the injury front – Matt Cross is back in training after his knee injury – the Magpies have been hit by a double suspension for the next two games. Adam Gusterson is banned after being sent off against Mildenhall, while Steve Harley's yellow card against Newmarket pushed him over the suspension threshold.