The Blues bowed out of this season’s Emirates FA Cup competition at the hands of League One side Shrewsbury Town on Saturday afternoon, and there was a sense of frustration in the United ranks that an opportunity had been missed, having given as good as they got through the 90 minutes.
Speaking after the game, assistant manager Gavin Skelton said: “We’re obviously disappointed with the result because we’re out of the FA Cup, but in terms of the performance and effort, on top of what they’ve already done this week, that was pleasing.
“But we’re frustrated at the same time that we haven’t gone on to take something from the game. I thought the performance level was really good at times, and we had them camped in through most of the second half. Unfortunately we’ve come out on the wrong end of the result.
“It’s a competition we wanted to do well in, but we have to be pleased with the effort and commitment from the players after the tough week we’ve had.”
With the Shrews having bagged with just 10 minutes on the clock, we wondered if that had changed the approach or the mindset within the group.
“I don’t think it affected us, to be fair,” he told us. “We stayed positive, we passed the ball quite well and we got ourselves into some good areas.
“We didn’t work the keeper as much as we would have liked, and I know that’s a recurring theme. Through pressing the ball and passing it we did find some good areas, but that’s where we want to be testing their keeper more.
“It was a tough week leading into the game, we’ve got another tough week coming, so we are pleased that the players competed. That bodes well because it shows us the fitness and character is there.
“We’ll watch that goal back and we’ll pick the bones out of it, because any goal you concede is frustrating from a defensive point of view. They’ll say it was good attacking play, and we’ll say it was disappointing defensively.
“But going back to my point, I don’t think it affected us, it didn’t shake us, and I don’t think confidence was knocked.
“As the game went on it looked like we might get back into it, but that’s where we have to be critical of ourselves and say we didn’t quite work the keeper enough, other than what was a great goal from Jordan [Gibson] at the end.”
The hosts had a number of chances to get back to level pegging, but chances were missed and the second half became a slog as the Salop sat ever deeper to protect their lead.
“It’s always the key moments that make the difference, of course they do,” he agreed. “You can have as much good play and put as much effort in as you want, but you have to finish your good chances.
“There’s no blame, but we obviously hope to make better decisions when we get those opportunities again.
“We’ve scored in every game this week, which is a positive. It shows we’re going in the right direction ahead of two really important games next week.
“The boys are working hard. There is some really good play involving the strikers making some really good runs, getting as high up the pitch – it’s that final bit, be it a pass, a cross or the finish, or getting in the right areas. I’m not saying anything new unfortunately.
“In the build-up the lads were patient, at times, and I know people get frustrated because they want the ball forward all the time.
“But when they were behind the ball I felt we played an extra couple of passes to get out the other side, we had an overload in wide areas with them playing wing-backs, and thought it worked really well first half, and second half until they changed it. That’s when they clogged it up and made it difficult.”
With things still very much in the balance at half-time, he confirmed that the team talk had consisted of demanding more of the same for the following 45 minutes.
“We told them to keep going,” he said. “We were still in the game and I thought when we were able to put two or three passes together we got into some good areas. We spoke about getting the ball into full back areas, which we did.
“They changed shape ten minutes into the second half to try and counter that, which probably worked, so that’s credit to them. We know were repeating things but the fact is it’s the same story. We need to be better with that final shot, pass or decision.
“In any league or competition it’s important to make your good work count, especially at the moment. We’re not scoring a lot of goals, so you need to make the most of the chances you get.
“We saw that with our goal. Jordan looks lively. He’s played a lot of football, which is why he didn’t start, but he was always going to be involved in some way.
“We’ve got a big week and he’ll be in contention, but I think when he gets the ball it always feels like something might happen. He can drop the shoulder or take someone on, and that isn’t the first time he’s scored late in a game. That’s credit to him.”
As for what was learned from going toe-to-toe with another team from the division above, he commented: “What we’re seeing doesn’t change. We need to be better in the final third.
“We’re being patient, there’s good play and movement between both boxes is excellent at times. But when we get into the opposition area we need to be more ruthless.
“We have to make better decisions, have that bit extra quality, which the lads are working hard on. They’re as frustrated as anyone, it’s not just the forward players, it’s set pieces that need to hit the target, midfielders getting plenty of shots but not putting them over the bar.
“In terms of the result we are very disappointed, but in terms of performance we did take momentum in. We’ve spoken about a few weeks ago if we’d gone a goal behind when confidence was fragile it might have been a long afternoon, but it didn’t feel a long afternoon.
“We more than stayed in the game. Their second goal finished it, really, but until then we weren’t just in the game, but I felt we were the dominant force for periods of it. But we have to start changing that into goals and wins.”
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