Manager Keith Curle gave us his reaction to the important away victory at Whaddon Road shortly after full time on Friday afternoon.
“We’re pleased with what we’ve done because this isn’t an easy place to come to,” he said. “They have good players, some decent loan players from higher divisions and a lot of good technical ability.
“They have good movement, mobility and rotation in what they do, and they have a physical presence at set pieces. They also have a very good manager who knows the division and who has something like one thousand games under his belt. He’s trying to build something here and he has them trying to do things the right way.
“I was respectful of that and I knew I had to come up with a game plan to counter it. There was no way we could just roll up here and play open and expansive football. They have players in midfield who can very quickly open a game up, so we needed to give ourselves a platform to build off. We’ve seen this as another challenge and the players take all the plaudits for getting us the result.”
“With the fact we are in the chasing pack it was important for the changing room, the fans and the club that we did this right,” he continued. “Like I say, there are some good players in their team and they aren’t an easy side to beat.
“They flood the area with numbers and they’re prepared to shift it quickly. They have pace in wide areas so my thinking with my formation was to keep things solid and to give us the chance to use our pace later in the game. Looking at our bench I knew we had game changers on there, and that was pleasing.
“We started with two big lads up front who we knew would compete with their big centre backs. You would probably say that we looked a threat when we introduced pace in the second half. The important thing was that we had a foothold from the start and I’ve reminded the players that every single one of them is going to have a part to play.”
Speaking more about the diamond formation, he commented: “Decisions have to be made and I’m in a position where I have to make them. A lot of people will have looked at the team sheet and the personnel and they’ll have had their opinion on what they thought was right or wrong.
“I’m prepared to take criticism and face those questions, but I do the job to the best of my ability with the information I’ve been given and the knowledge I have. You have to be brave enough to make the decisions and you have to come up with a plan, which I think is massive. If you haven’t got a plan, things will quickly unfold on you.
“Cheltenham are good enough to walk through teams if they get themselves going. We knew we had to block the middle areas and fill the gaps and then we’d be able to play. We were happy to let them have the ball in wide areas, as long as we kept our back four together.
“Within that there were going to be times when our midfield was outnumbered, but that was when we needed to slide across and make it harder for them to pop the ball about. With the change of shape the players had to take on board new instructions and that shows the willingness and desire to take on new challenges. They didn’t really test us too much and we had good decisions from our keeper whenever they did get through.”
With a fourteenth clean sheet of campaign under their belt, the defence came in for particular praise.
“Sometimes football is like a game of poker where you don’t show your hand straight away,” Curle said. “I thought we gave ourselves a platform as the game developed, because when I’ve watched Cheltenham play I’ve seen them use good rotation and they can pop it and move.
“Clint Hill, Mark Ellis, James Brown and Tom Parkes showed excellent unity in the way they defended. They knew the game in front of them was going to be frantic, but they stayed organised and robust and they won their battles.
“James has been chomping at the bit and this was a chance for him to come in because we wanted him to deal with their winger, who I thought would cause us problems. That’s testament to how James has been looking after himself because he’s come back in and given us a solid 90 minutes.
“Gary Liddle looked good in front of the back four. He’s played there before and I thought he was excellent. There were other changes within the squad which I also felt were necessary, but the players take the credit because they made them work.”
United’s winner came from the spot when Jamie Devitt struck his ninth of the season with a well struck penalty kick.
“He enjoyed his penalty,” the United gaffer told us. “I thought we had another penalty shout which was turned down. Richie Bennett hit the post and Hallam Hope has forced a great save out of the keeper, and as the game was going on we looked the more likely to score.
“Jamie will be pleased because he’s been playing well. He came off at the end with a little bit of fatigue. He’s had a bit of a niggle that we’ve been able to mask, and he’s been looking after himself really well, and that’s why he’s been getting the best out of himself.”
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