Boss Keith Curle gave us his reaction to the Emirates FA Cup victory over Oldham Athletic shortly after full time on Saturday afternoon.
“For a neutral that game epitomised the cut and thrust, excitement, entertainment and spirit of this competition,” he said. “Everything you want from the FA Cup was out there today. The football was great to watch at times, and it had goals, goalmouth action and plenty going on.
“It’s a game that shows the beauty of the competition is still alive. We probably went into it as underdogs in terms of the run of games and victories that Oldham have had. They’re from the division above and they’ve got some good players in their squad.
“As well as that, we know we haven’t been as successful as we’ve needed to be this season on our own patch. We wanted to address that, and we wanted to give the fans something to smile about.”
Having gone with a 3-5-2 starting formation, with some notable absentees, he said: “I’d say the tactical decisions and the selection of personnel will have had the local message boards and social media feeds buzzing before kick-off.
“I’m sure there’ll have been texts and tweets about the formation and players left out, because it will have surprised a few. People will have had their opinion, but I know there’s an understanding that decisions need to be made by the manager to make sure we get the personnel and tactics right. That’s why you make the decisions, and then your fingers are crossed that it works!”
“First and foremost, I have to make it clear that when a player isn’t selected it isn’t that he’s been dropped,” he explained. “I had that conversation with Jamie Devitt and Nicky Adams, because it’s about who I feel is going to do the job against the opposition on the day.
“It’s nothing at all to do with how they’ve been playing previously because they’ve both been playing very well. It certainly isn’t because of how they’ve been training because they’ve worked exceptionally hard. It was purely a coaching and tactical decision because of the strengths and weaknesses we were looking to exploit in the opposition.
“In a way it’s showing Oldham a little bit of respect in terms of me not wanting them to hurt us, and that comes from having seen them play live and from the videos we’ve watched. They keep good possession and they overload in the final third, so we wanted to make sure we had an extra man in defence to counter that.
“They came at us, as we knew they would, but we coped. I thought Clint Hill, Gary Liddle and Tom Parkes were tested, but they did very well. They needed the assistance of the wing backs when Oldham attacked in numbers and they got that, which was very good to see.”
“In the past I’ve gone with a box formation against a team who set up in the way Oldham do,” he continued. “That was an option, but I wanted two up front so that we could get the ball wide and get it into the box. I knew we had deliveries in us and I thought we could outsize and out manoeuvre them from set pieces.
“The players have to take massive credit because they took the information on board. The coaching staff get their formation in mind, but it’s up to the players to get it right from what they’ve been told in the training sessions. We only had two days to work at it, so we spent time working on those situations when we would be without possession, and we spent a day working on what we would do when we had the ball.
“To be able to go out and put it into practice shows an excellent attitude. The information they’d been given was different to what they were used to and it takes a level of adaptability for them to be able to implement it.”
On registering the much-needed home victory, he commented: “It’s something we’ve been very aware of. I keep saying over and over that if I could choose where to win games it would be here.
“Football doesn’t do that for you, unfortunately, but we appreciate that everything we get we have to earn. This was a victory we had to earn, but it was typical cup tie stuff with it getting back to 3-2 with plenty of time still to play.
“If the game should have been out of sight at 3-0 it reminds us that there are still areas where we need to improve. Jack Bonham was really unlucky to have made a quality save only for the ball to land to their lad for him to stab it home.
“We’ll look at why we conceded, and I think it will show that we have got to be the team who makes first contact when a ball comes in from a set piece or from wide. If you don’t get that, we’ve seen again how dangerous it can be.
“Having said all of that, we could have crumbled when they got back to 3-2 but the players showed us belief and strength of character. We were up against a team who have had a fantastic run and they gave it everything. You can see why they’ve been getting results, but we dealt with it and we played our own football as well.”
For striker Richie Bennett, he took his personal tally to three goals in two games and put in his best all-round performance in a blue shirt, bagging him the Peter Jackson the Jeweller Man-of-the-Match award.
“Goals change games and goals also change people’s mindsets,” Curle said. “It’s been coming for him and that’s because he’s worked extremely hard. He needed to rebuild his confidence, because he had a slow start with us, and he’s got a good understanding now that hard work brings rewards.
“You make your own luck if you’re giving it everything because balls start landing in your area and things start going your way. What I will do now that he’s setting himself off on a run is make sure we don’t sell him in January!
“His first goal was a pat on the back for the coaching staff because they put a lot in to set pieces and how they think the opposition will react. Trends are looked for, as are areas to be exploited, and it’s then down to making sure our players attack the positions they need to. When you score a goal like that, it hasn’t happened by mistake.
“We’ve worked with him on using his height, even if it’s as a decoy, because people will obviously think he will be the target. That’s what happened with his first goal because we had him at the front post and Clint waiting for the ball at the back. Their defenders were naturally drawn to him.”
“He’ll enjoy his social evening in Oldham because it’s been a difficult time for him,” he added. “He’s been disappointed with himself with some of the good chances he’s missed, but I know he won’t get carried away with the run he’s on now.
“He wants to be successful and he wants to add to the group when he’s involved. We have a group of players who will also look to keep his feet on the ground because it’s still a very demanding environment.”
And with both strikers getting on the scoresheet, he said: “In some respects it justifies going with two up front against a good team. It might have been seen as a bit gung ho, rather than condensing the midfield area, but the five defenders did their bit to help close things down when Oldham did get hold of the ball.
“The other thing I had in mind was that I knew they had game changers on the bench. We knew if we did go ahead that they would push more and more men forward, as they did, and that we’d need to be able to adapt.
“We had some very good players on the bench and we’re getting to the stage now where we have players who are disappointed that they aren’t even in the 18. That’s when you have to manage people and make sure they understand that it it’s about rotation, what’s needed and what’s required to win games.”
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