United boss Chris Beech was visibly disappointed after the final whistle had blown at the Jonny Rocks Stadium on Tuesday night as results elsewhere meant that the play-off push was finally over.
Having yet again been the better side, but with only a point to show for it, he said: “I’m more emotional than normal tonight because I know we deserve to still be in the fight, and we aren’t.
“All of the lads have had a little dip after the break at the start of the year, some people have recognised that, some people see it as an excuse, and some people say we just need to get on with it, but it happened.
“I’m pleased with the standards we played at tonight, and we have to progress that now and be consistent. That’s Cheltenham in a nutshell, they’re very consistent because they’ve got a lot of players who have been there and done it before.
“They know how to drag a game down and take it up. We’re good at trying to do what we want to do, but we need to lessen the naivety and learn from it. I’ll try and get us to represent the last two games right because we do deserve more points on the board.”
“I’m a little bit frustrated we haven’t won that game because we deserved to win it,” he added. “They’ve got senior professionals who can manage moments in games.
“They’ve been promoted and we’ve got to learn from them. We’ve got a lot of players playing in their first full season, so we’re very naïve but very hard working.
“I get criticised if I mention any other factors, whether it’s referees, finance, anything really. I’m so proud of our players, because they’ve given our club everything and we haven’t gained and got what we want.
“We’ve been excellent in this game, we were the better team, played the better football, had the better chances. For the second consecutive game we hit the bar, and we’ve had the roughest ride of any other club in the Football League.
“It isn’t an excuse. So please, any supporter, it isn’t Chris Beech having an excuse, it’s reality and fact, and I’m so proud of how we’ve responded to that, because I’m so ambitious, and so hungry, and the players deserve great credit for representing our community – and that’s without the community there.
“They come and do their best at places like this, that do have more money than us and do have that opportunity ... I know it was in the press, Michael Duff mentioned it, so I’m not too sure where we are in the league table of that, but I’m dead proud of the boys.
“It’s probably not the greatest interview because I’m gutted. Because we worked so hard, we were honest, and we gave everything.”
Choosing to go like-for-like, the game saw the Blues adopt a 3-5-2 formation with George Tanner and Jack Armer employed in advanced wing-back roles.
“Cheltenham have lost five 5 games at home and four teams have played three at the back,” he explained. “They’re excellent at the long throws and corners, and excellent with all three centre-halves regaining and retaining the ball.
“Normal centre halves in League Two head it, kick it out of play, deal with the centre forward. These guys head it, retain the header, and play from that point. It was important we didn’t allow that to happen, so we had to try and play two up top.
“But because they play three in midfield, it’s difficult to do that. But four of the five teams who’ve beaten them at home have played three at the back, so I looked at it from that perspective, looked at who’s available for us, looked at how it freed up Jack and George, and tried to put them under severe pressure, which we did, and we deserved to win, but we haven’t.”
And with George Tanner in particular, he occupied a number of positions through the 90 minutes, at one point being the most advanced player in a front three as the clock ticked down.
“He’s done it before for Morecambe, he’s played left back, right-back,” the manager told us. “We have to respect the opponent, and we have to congratulate Cheltenham, well done to them.
“Well done for the last couple of years, they’ve been very positive, and the way they play, they’re not just a long throw, but they’ve got 12 goals from doing that. That’s a massive amount of points in their situation.
“They also have seasoned professionals, but went up against them and we should have taken the win.”
“I shook everybody’s hand in our changing room and I said Jack, well done, it’s his first full season. George well done, it’s his first full season. Aaron Hayden, it’s his first full season. Callum Guy well done, it’s his first full season where he is the main midfield player, not the one that gets dropped and plays half a dozen games.
“I went round the room and when I looked at it, it is our first full season. We have to learn from the bits we’ve had that come up against us, but we’ve done really well in handling it, we just haven’t got what we want.
“I’m really disappointed now, but I am so hungry and ambitious to succeed. But of course I have to accept where we are.”
A notable change to the starters was keeper Magnus Norman in for Paul Farman, with Norman making his third league start.
“Magnus is good in the air, he’s bigger, and as we know, they’ve scored 12 goals from long throws, and I don’t know how many from corners,” he told us. “It just gave us a bit more of a safety net aerially because that’s what they’re like.
“He was excellent in his distribution and the save he made, so well done to him. Overall everybody adapted to the change in system but I think people look into things too much.
“We’ve got one of the best home records for the way we play. Granted, I was disappointed with the first half against Harrogate. We didn’t get any credit really for the change we made, me and Gav, at half-time, but we have to try and make the change, because everybody’s chasing something that’s bigger.
“Cheltenham was the same, we needed to win the match, we deserved to win, but we didn’t get the winning goal.”
Next on the agenda for the Blues is today’s Central League Cup final, to be played this afternoon at St George’s Park against Bournemouth.
“Well we’ll get home at around 4am, whatever it is, so thankyou everybody for putting it on that day!” he joked. “We’ve got a team to represent us, it would be nice to have a stronger team, but it’s a good opportunity for some of the first-year professionals.
“I thank them for their patience because they haven’t had much opportunity, but that’s because the standards have gone up and the team’s playing higher.
“If you want to get in this team you’ve got to be better. I’ve just said to everybody in there, including the staff, we’ve got to be better.”
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