United boss Keith Curle spoke to us at his Friday morning press conference ahead of the visit of Chesterfield this weekend.
Talking first about the type of game we can expect to see, he said: “We’ve had some positives from the performances in the last couple of away games, even though we’ve been disappointed with the results.
“We’re coming to the stage of the season now where we need results. I think it will be a nervy encounter from them because of what’s at stake. Not too long ago at this football club we were down the wrong end of the table, and you start to see games running out.
“There is a nervousness with that because you can’t hang on in games. They have started games quite well, but when they take the lead they seem to sit back and try and protect it, which is a dangerous game to play. What if’s start creeping in because everyone at their club will know what is at stake.
“They’re where we were when I came in and it is a test of character. You find out the DNA of the football club very quickly because it’s a case of – are you up for a fight? Have you got it in you or are you a fragmented group that shows an inability to create the unity you need when you’re faced with a tough challenge.”
“They’ve got two good strikers for this level,” he continued. “I think Dennis was on his way to a League One club in January, I think the deal had been done and he’d had a medical, but it was all dependent on another deal which didn’t go through, so he ended up coming back.
“He’s a goalscorer who comes alive in the box. If you give him an opportunity he will score. Chris O’Grady is a player I tried to sign from Barnsley when I was at Notts County. I personally don’t think they’ll play with two up front, but they’ve got some decent footballers in their team who can play off a striker. I think their weakness is at the back because I think they’re struggling for numbers in defence.
“They’ve got good players and I think if you looked at their team with the new players they brought in in January they’ve had a massive, and they’ve invested a lot into staying up this season. The money they’ve spent will probably be similar to some of the teams who are at the other end of the table trying to go up.”
“Teams will come here now and I don’t think they will try and play an entertaining game of football,” he told us. “I think they’ll play a 4-5-1 and flood the middle of the pitch. They’ll get men behind the ball and try and frustrate us, and they’ll hope to get the crowd on our back, which can mean the players try and force things or make wrong decisions. Anything they get will be a bonus.
“I think at this stage of the season a lot of teams will play better away from home because of what is at stake. Home fans can get nervous, and we noticed that on Tuesday night when we were at Notts County. We scored to make it 2-1 and their supporters were nervous because they wanted a comfortable game where they went out and won 4-0.
“There were fans moaning and sometimes at this stage of the season it is easier to play away because of the expectations of the crowd. From our point of view tomorrow, we need to put in a performance which gets the crowd behind us very quickly. We need to get the ball forward and into their box, which will hopefully mean we get goals.”
On the importance of the next three games, he told us: “We spoke to the players on Thursday about that. Chesterfield, Barnet and Yeovil are three games which we think are winnable within the changing room.
“We know we’ve got to go out and do our jobs and not get involved in any emotion. We need to go out and win games of football, how we do it will be determined by the decisions the players make on the pitch. If we can get some wins we will really kick start the end of the season run-in.
“Simon Tracey obviously knows our players well and they’ll have talked about our strengths and weaknesses. I spoke to Simon after the game on Tuesday and he told me he was going to tell his players to put every corner underneath the crossbar straight at Jack Bonham.
“I told him I was going to tell our players to do the same, because I don’t fancy their goalkeeper under pressure either. We’re professionals so we both pick up on strengths and weaknesses and we’ve got an understanding of each other’s changing room. Simon will know the personalities, but he’ll also know the ability and skillsets we’ve got here as well.”
And speaking again about how he’ll get the best out of his side, he commented: “I have to pick on the positives of some of the performances we’ve seen recently. Some of the fluidity in our play has come back and we’ve created opportunities.
“That’s important, and what we need to do now is make sure that we have players getting into the areas so that we can finish them off. If you get the goals to go with your play you see the confidence start to flood back into the players. The lads feel the anxieties and the expectation from the supporters and we know that everybody has the same aspiration, to be operating in the top seven.
“The feeling is that we’re underachieving compared to what we did in the last two seasons, but that’s where we want to be operating. We’re aware of that and we know we’ve had opportunities in games which we haven’t taken, and that’s why we aren’t operating at that level at the moment.
“Some of the goals we’ve given away have been needless and that’s something we need to rectify. We have a great opportunity, with the three games coming up, to get on a run. Once you get that momentum you’d be surprised what can happen. If we get three wins out of three everybody will start to look up again.
“This next run of games are important to both me and the players, and they’re important to the supporters as well. If we win, we all win together. If we lose, I lose, and I’ll take the criticism and the negativity that comes with it. The way I work is that if we’re winning games I want us all to share in the success.
“I want the supporters to come to the ground and be a part of us being successful. Their part within our team framework is that they’ve got to come and show their backing to the players. I want them to make sure the players understand that when they do well, this football club is right behind them. I want an environment that is conducive with the players being able to express themselves. That’s the part the supporters have to play.
“Within that, if things aren’t going our way, they’re entitled to show their displeasure. Funnel that towards me.”
The manager also confirmed that there is still interest from the Conference in some of his players, with calls coming in as recently as this morning.
“There are a few agents who are still keeping in touch,” he confirmed. “I’ve still got interest from a few Conference clubs who want to take players from us. I had an enquiry yesterday, and another one today. At the moment, it doesn’t suit me [to allow talks to progress].
“When I get interest like this I always talk to the players concerned but, in this case, I’ve also told them it’s not right for me at the moment. The right thing to do is to notify them and, if the situation changes and it’s something they want to pursue, they can do that.”
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