United put on another good performance at Boundary Park on Tuesday night, with a lot of what the manager described as ‘positive negatives’ on show, with his team not quite taking full advantage of their overall dominance.
“Of course we’re frustrated at the result,” he agreed. “We’ve hit the bar and the post, and I don’t know how Lewi’s [Alessandra] shot didn’t go in. The keeper spills it but somehow it didn’t go in.
“I’m not sure how Jon Mellish is offside from that shot because he’ll have been stood next to him when he was shooting, I know he hit the post but if the ref didn’t stop play we would have put it into an empty net.”
“It was a good finish from the Oldham player for their goal, but it was against the run of play,” he continued. “It was similar to the first half, they had one chance and it’s often like that when you play away. I was really pleased with the energy of the players and the chances we created.
“The shots and chances created are through the roof, but the main stat isn’t, and that’s the only stat that matters. The one I want is goals and points, but the other stats are good because it shows we’ve improved a lot.
“Oldham made five changes from their team at Bolton, but we went with the same eleven, and the energy the lads showed during the first half and through a big part of the second half was excellent. We just couldn’t get the breakthrough to get the winner.
“This is football, it’s how it can be. We know we have to take a few jabs but hopefully we’ll pick up a few knockouts of our own along the way as well.”
Again on Tuesday night, the Blues controlled much of the game, spending most of the 90 minutes in the opposition half.
“We are dominating games but we’ve got to keep that up,” the manager told us. “The players need to make sure they rest well now and get their recovery in. We’re playing against a team on Saturday that I feel have similar energy to us so the recovery is massive now. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play back-to-back away games.
“Along with that we must be mindful of the situations that can hurt us. If you’ve only got that one-goal advantage you have to work ever so hard. We were feeling comfortable but suddenly Oldham get a moment for them and it was a great finish.
“It was so unfortunate because it was actually a bad pass from Oldham straight to JJ Kayode’s chest. We’re striding forward thinking we’re going to have a go on their goal. Danny Rowe has different attributes to JJ, he isn’t as quick as him, so the only thing he could do was lunge to try and get the ball before JJ breaks away.
“He got the slightest touch on the ball and JJ went to ground, but because of that Dean [Furman] tried to come and help his mate out, which left the space. The defenders then aren’t ready for that little turnover because they’re expecting us to go forward.
“We work on that, but they’re human, and if we score more goals and defend more ruthlessly we’ll become a very good team. In terms of how we’re going about what we’re doing, it’s very honest and hardworking, and it represents the community really well.”
A key factor of the eye-catching displays at the moment is the high level of energy being show throughout the 90 minutes.
“Energy, pressing, turning the ball over, regains, these are vital things,” he agreed. “It’s significant that when somebody like Connor Malley with his skill comes on you can see he’s not used to it, because he made a mistake just once over on that left-hand side.
“But that once is enough to lose a football league game, and these lads have to learn that. It would have been a devastating travesty to have lost that game, but it was a little bit like that against Colchester.
“We dominated the game on Saturday only for them to get to a position of equal, and that’s crazy. It means the opponent has got a lot, with less. We need to get more from the more we have.”
With the fixtures now into a heavy run of Saturday-Tuesday games it was perhaps surprising for some to see no changes to the team that had started against Colchester.
“It’s the first time we’ve had to get ready for that Saturday-Tuesday hit and now the games are going to come thick and fast,” he commented. “You can sometimes get a dip after a good performance, but we made sure we trained correctly.
“The best way of attacking a busy run is just to deal with it. Obviously we’ll take on a bit of collateral damage along the way, but if everybody is pushing hard we’ll find ourselves in a position where the others who haven’t started are ready to step up. That’s the sort of energy we want in the dressing room.
“I’m really happy with how the lads played. It means the boys are going home, getting to bed, not doing anything they shouldn’t do, they’re eating the right stuff, coming in and training well.
“Even when Oldham mixed things up we kept going. Their only ‘in’ really in the first half was Bobby Grant’s physicality, using his arms, which allows the ball to stay in your defensive area, but the players dealt with it well, and they swapped Bobby off the pitch.
“I know Bobby from Rochdale days, he’s a good player, then they stick Danny Rowe on who’s doing exactly the same thing, but on the other side of the pitch. At that point Oldham have nothing to lose, so the central midfield player is starting to play as a centre-forward, and they end up having four and five players in flat lines.
“It’s important our players understand that sometimes, you might be a centre midfield player, or like JJ playing right attacks for the last 20-30 minutes, and he’s got to understand the opposition’s ‘in’.
“It was through Danny Rowe and, ironically, that’s where the goal came from. They had the ball, Danny turned it back over, but that’s why I wanted to help George Tanner out a little bit and try and secure three points, but it ended up being one.”
Speaking about the goal, scored from a quality set-piece, he said: “Any successful team scores goals from different areas. Callum Guy, I’m pleased for him, because he turned his ankle in the warm-up. I spoke to him and he wanted to play, and that’s exactly the attitude I want in my dressing room.
“His set pieces were fantastic, he gives it everything through the game, and Aaron [Hayden] will have enjoyed the delivery for his header.
“If you’re going to be successful at this level of football, it’s fairly simple, you need to try and win half your games, try and keep 20 clean sheets and score 75 goals, but these are really hard things to do.
“They’re all easy words to say, but who is going to get those goals. Try and concede one goal or less over a season per game. Get all those things right and you’ve got a chance of being successful.
“I want us to play an exciting brand of football where attackers take players on, backed up with full backs getting in the last third, crossing and scoring themselves. I like midfield players getting in the box, I like my attackers to take players on and be instinctive in the last third. I want control to it on spillage so we create second waves of attacks, and have control in games.
“Once we’ve put the foundation of that down, which we have in the team, the team just has to go on and do it, and make that decision at that right moment and get it right. That could be three or four goals in a game without a doubt. It could have been tonight, but it wasn’t, and we’ve got to accept the fact we’ve drawn the game.”
And closing on the pre-match news that Latics boss Harry Kewell had been tested positive for Covid-19, he said: “I couldn’t believe that when I was told while we were at the hotel.
“I hope Harry is well, but it shows again what this situation is. That’s why we have to look after the players and the club, and we all need to continue to do the right things. We need to keep it out of the building so all we can concentrate on is ourselves.”
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