United’s striking duo Richie Bennett and Hallam Hope proved to be extremely hard to handle for League One Gillingham on Tuesday night as both players had a hand in all three goals, with Hope adding two more to his season tally in the first half of an entertaining game.
And manager Keith Curle was quick to acknowledge the contribution from his forward pairing as he reflected on a good team performance.
“I thought Hallam and Richie had the running of their back line,” he said. “They left the central defenders knowing they’d been involved in a tough game.
“It was a game where it wasn’t suited for us to go and play fight ball. We needed to be assured in our passing and aggressive and forward thinking in our approach. We did that in all areas and that’s where we started to find gaps.
“The players listened to me instead of always looking to get the ball forward, because I want us to develop a style of play we can build on. I want that to involve taking risks and playing out from the back, so that we move the opposition around and create spaces to work in.”
“We saw the players try to do that a lot through the 90 minutes and Richie was at the heart of it,” he continued. “He’s disappointed that he didn’t score, but he’s got his shot on target at the end and Shaun Miller has been able to wrap the game up because of it.
“His assists for the first two goals are top drawer and he’ll take confidence from a good personal display.”
With the current top scorer on nine goals heading into the festive period, he said: “It’s a great way of answering his critics because he’s taken a little bit of stick.
“The type of lad he is, he just wants to be loved. You won’t find him turning around and arguing with the people who give him stick or jump on his back. He’s here to be successful and he’s desperate to score goals for us.
“He works his socks off for the team and he works hard in training because he wants to improve as a player. It isn’t about ramming it down people’s throats, or anything like that, because he wants to score for himself and for his team.
“He’ll be pleased that he has nine, but I know Hallam, he’ll want more. He won’t want it to stop there. He’s a determined character and he’ll keep putting himself out there, even when it isn’t quite going his way.”
The victory boosts the club’s coffers head of the opening of the January transfer window and, with the Sheffield Wednesday game still to come, we wondered if conversations would be had on how that new money will be spent as the manager looks to improve his squad.
“We need to have a sit down and find out where we are, because we need to show good housekeeping as a business,” he explained. “There are always bills to be paid and unforeseen circumstances to be catered for, but ultimately we’re a football club and we’re looking to improve from window-to-window.
“If that means we can bring players in who offer different skill sets, then all well and good. I know that if money is available the club will tell me about it.”
So, is the former-Blade looking forward to going up against the Owls in round three?
“It’s a game that will generate its own interest – and I’m going to get some right stick having played for the other side of the city back in the day!
“I still live in Sheffield and it’ll be an opportunity for the Wednesday fans to have a go at me. It’s good banter though, and even when I played for Sheffield United it was good rivalry, but always done in a good way.
“I remember when I went back there with Neil Warnock he got absolutely hammered for the whole 90 minutes, but he took it on the chin and he stood there doing his job.
“I’m very similar, I won’t react to it, but I will enjoy it.”
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