DAVID MIRFIN says this campaign has been a learning curve – with as many lessons coming when he's been out of the team as in it.
Having swept the board at last season’s players’ awards evening, the centre-back, who turned 23 yesterday, was desperate to push on this time around.
But he was the man to lose out when former manager Andy Ritchie brought in first Richard Keogh, then Rob Page in a bid to shore up Town’s leaky defence.
But with two clean sheets in his three games in caretaker charge before today’s home clash with Tranmere, perhaps Gerry Murphy knew the answer all along.
The director of football development marked the onset of his second spell at the helm by switching from two to three centre-backs, offering a fresh opportunity to Mirfin, who under Ritchie, made his only start since the arrival of Page when the former Welsh international was suspended for last month’s fixture at Swindon, where Town lost 3-2.
Mirfin has operated alongside Page and Nathan Clarke in a 3-5-2 system he knows well from Town's League II promotion campaign of 2003-04.
“We played it quite a bit under Peter Jackson, and I’ve slipped back into it fairly smoothly,” explained the Sheffield-based player, who made his debut in the 1-1 home draw with Oldham on the final day of the 2002-03 League I relegation season.
“While it might sound easier than a two centre-back formation, it’s harder in a way because you have a wider area to cover since the two wing-backs are effectively midfielders rather than defenders.
“But you see plenty of the ball, so while it’s challenging, it’s also enoyable.
“I’ve been playing on the left side, which encourages me to use my weaker foot more, and being alongside someone as experienced as Pagey is great for both myself and Nathan.”
Despite his age, Mirfin, just like Clarke, can hardly be described as inexperienced, with Tuesday’s sweet 1-0 derby victory over Leeds his 153rd Town start.
There have been 23 further appearances as a substitute, most recently in the 4-1 defeat at Oldham, when he came on as a stand-in striker and scored his 12th career goal.
That, of course, proved to be Ritchie’s last match in charge, although Mirfin insisted: “I was surprised. I thought he’d get the chance to reshape the squad over the close-season and see if he could sort out the inconsistency which has cost us so dearly this time.”
That task will fall to whoever takes over as Town’s third manager in as many years, with second interviews starting next week and an appointment possible before Walsall’s visit a week today.
Mirfin added: “You hear names being mentioned, but I don’t know too much about any of them, and whoever comes in, I’ll have to prove myself to them.”
He might not have done that with Ritchie, but Mirfin remains philosophical about his time on the sidelines.
“It’s happened to me in the past, and it will probably happen again, because that’s football,” he said.
“You can’t argue with the impact Pagey has had, and it’s the manager’s job to decide who to pick and who to leave out and the players’ to abide by it.
“I’m still a young player and I’m certainly still learning, and one of the things you have to take on board is how to cope with the frustration of missing out on selection.
“It’s about working hard, remaining patient, refusing to let your head go down and doing your best to get noticed in training and reserve matches.”
Murphy is the first to admit that he depends heavily on the coaching team around him, and Mirfin is learning a lot from academy chief Graham Mitchell, himself a former Town centre-back.
“Mitch wasn’t with the academy when I came through it, so he is new to me, but we’ve all enjoyed his sessions, and as a centre-back, he’s passed on some very useful advice,” said Mirfin.
That much was clear as Town stood firm against Leeds on Tuesday to provide Murphy and Mitchell with a major scalp, and Mirfin continued: “It was a great night, and I think we deserved the win.
“We stayed solid all the way through, we created more clear-cut chances than them, and after each side had a man sent off (Leeds skipper Jonathon Douglas and Town’s Jon Worthington were red carded in separate incidents late in the first half) I thought we adapted better.
“To see Andy Holdsworth’s (76th-minute) goal go in was brilliant, although I have to admit that from where I was standing, I didn’t know if it had crossed the line after hitting the post.
“The reaction of our fans soon made it clear it had.”