United manager Keith Curle gave us his reaction to the entertaining Emirates FA Cup stalemate with Sheffield Wednesday as the teams now head towards a replay in ten days’ time.
“I was pleased with the attention to detail the players paid to our game plan,” he said. “We had to nullify Wednesday because we knew they would get quality balls into our final third.
“Some people might see it as negative, or parking the bus, but we lined up as we did out of respect for how they can play. We allowed them to have dominance of the ball in areas of the pitch where we felt we weren’t going to get exposed.
“They had the header in the first couple of minutes, and possibly one other shot in the first half, so we frustrated them, and they had to go for a change of shape. That meant we came more into it in the second half, because the game spread out, and we’d gained our foothold. Their change of formation left them outnumbered in midfield and we were able to show more going forward.
“We had slightly more dominance and forward movement of the ball and we played some good counter-attacking football. Defensively the players understood their roles very well and they settled in to the job they had to do. We looked very solid because of it.”
But he acknowledged that it could have been very difficult had the first chance of the day, with less than 60 seconds on the clock, had dipped under Jack Bonham’s bar.
“Their chance with the first attack of the game was very reminiscent of when we played Everton,” he commented. “You go through a process of building yourself up for a game, and you explain in detail how important it is to keep a clean sheet and stay in the encounter. If you then concede early that all goes out of the window.
“It was disappointing to see how easily that opportunity was created, but the response from the players was excellent. We’ve earned the draw with a gritty, determined display. From back to front everybody played their part and there were a lot of ticks in a lot of boxes.
The Championship visitors weren’t the only side to feel they could have won it with the Blues having a goal chalked off for offside during a dominant spell of the game for the home side.
“I haven’t seen it back to see if it was offside but, even if it was, it was a fantastic header,” he said. “Sam [Cosgrove] got real power and direction on it and he showed that he has a real eye for a goal. You’d have to think it was offside because I thought the officials did ok today.
“That header came at a time when we were trying to create chances and I thought Shaun Miller was unlucky when he came on. He had a scurry into the box, but it got stuck under his feet as he tried to get his shot off. I thought he might have a cheeky toe-poke, but it didn’t quite sit for him.
“The longer the game went on the more our midfield found their feet as well. Arguably you could say that putting a tackle in isn’t a natural part of their game, but they closed down and worked hard and they got themselves on top. That meant we started to cause them problems and we matched them all over the pitch.”
And on the hard-earned clean sheet, he said: “We needed to be good defensively today. That doesn’t just happen, it’s something we worked on. Some of the jobs we were asking the players to do out of possession were slightly foreign, but we worked on it through Thursday and Friday and they showed good understanding.
“We knew we would have to be a counter-attacking team today but within that we had to get the ball back off them. To a man, the players understood their roles and they applied themselves to do their jobs. Sometimes work off the ball doesn’t get noticed, but we were filling holes very well.”
Speaking about the substitution of Reggie Lambe, he told us: “Reggie said he rolled his ankle. At first I thought it was a bit of cramp, but he told us he’d rolled his ankle.
“As he was coming off the pitch he said the feeling was coming back, so we’re hopeful with that one. Knowing our luck it will probably turn into a six month injury!
“Luke Joyce was back outside doing field based training yesterday, so that’s good news, but he hasn’t joined in with the group yet. I was desperate to get him involved today, but I’ve had to listen to the advice of the medical team.
“Getting Luke back with the potential of him then getting reinjured and missing more games wasn’t something we wanted to do. I think when he got injured we were told it would be three weeks, and I think it will be three weeks on Monday, so we’re hopeful Luke will be available for the Crewe game.
“He’ll have to go through the demands we put on players when they’re coming back, and I think it’s important we have that in place. If it was a cup final it might be slightly different.”