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MANAGER: A good feeling to win

Keith Millen with Tuesday night reaction

1 December 2021

United had to work hard against a mobile Lincoln side to secure their progression into the final 16 of the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday evening, and it was a pleased but still demanding manager who joined the press to talk about the game shortly after the full-time whistle.

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“It’s a good feeling to win, without a doubt, because it was hard work,” Keith Millen said. “The conditions were horrendous with the heavy rain and the heavy pitch, so credit to both teams that they kept going.

“I was very impressed with Lincoln. I watched them and I knew they were a good passing team, but I thought their movement in this game was excellent. They caused us a lot of problems when they had the ball.

“I felt we were comfortable but without us ever really having any control of the game. Sometimes that happens, and you have to respect the opponent and what they can do. Generally they never really opened us up, but we were having to do a lot of work to stop them from getting through us.”

“To let them score in the last 30 seconds of the first half is a tough one, we let that happen again, and we were disappointed because you could see how hard the lads had worked to stay in the game up to that point,” he continued.

“For all of their good play we actually had the three best chances, and I’ve told the lads again that they’ve got to stay in games. If they do that, chances will come, as they did in this one.

“We tried to help with that and I felt I needed to try to change something at half time because I could see how tired we were getting. Being a goal down meant that we needed to try to do a bit more, so we tweaked it a little bit.

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“The front two had worked hard but I didn’t feel they had any impact on the game, so we matched up against Lincoln a little bit more in the middle of the park. It was more of a 4-3-3 and I thought we stopped them from working through their patterns with the ball.

“That got us back into the game, but the problem you get when you have to work as hard as we did out of possession is that when you get the transition, which we did at times, I demand of the players that they then have to pass the ball and keep it.

“With them having had to put the effort in to get the ball, it’s then very difficult to get your own game going. That was a problem we had at different stages.

“I was pleased we stayed in the game, and then Jordan Gibson had that great chance when he went clean through and you do think – ahhhh – when it was missed.

“That was a hard one to take, but then we scored a great goal. After that I wanted us to try to stay solid and I didn’t mind taking it to penalties, to be honest.”

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Expanding more on the work that needed to deal with a passing side, he told us: “I knew they’d pass it really well, so I didn’t want us to use loads of energy in their defensive third.

“The idea was to try to get a block in the middle of the pitch, so it’s a mid-block, because when we did win it they were wide open. If we’d had a little bit more quality and composure, and if we’d found more passes, we could have created more chances.

“That was my only frustration really. We worked on the mid-block and on certain areas of when it was the right time to press, and we did ok at that. They had good movement, but they never really opened us up.

“They got into dangerous areas but Mark [Howard] didn’t really make a save. I’d expect us to be better on the ball than we were, and we’ve got to demand from each other that we’re better on the ball, but I can’t really complain because the lads worked so hard.

“The quality of the penalties was fantastic, and we hadn’t really worked on them, it was just a case of who had the most legs. I thought they were really brave to take them.”

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A disappointment on the night was the conceding of a goal at a vital juncture in the 90 minutes.

“I was angry heading up that tunnel at half-time because of the timing of it,” he confirmed. “I already had it in my mind to try to change it a little bit just before that happened.

“Letting the goal in made my mind up, because I didn’t want to just sit back and hope things would happen. I’ll have to look at it again, I can’t remember how they got in, but they did, so we’ll analyse that.

“It’s an example of why we have to give Lincoln credit for the way they pass and move. They’re a good side. The pleasing thing is that heads didn’t drop.

“We’ve got a good spirit in there and they’re working really hard for each other. The more games we have like the last two the more confidence the players will get.

“They know they can stay in games and it’s just the key moments that make the difference. We had some really good chances and we took one, then showed bottle and ability with the penalties.”

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The quality of the equaliser was sparked by a positive impact from substitute Manny Mampala who created space before sliding Jack Armer through on goal.

“That shows the energy and willingness to run,” he said. “Jack could have easily sat there next to his winger, but as soon as Manny turned he’s gone. That’s the energy this team’s got, which is great.

“It was a great finish, a really good goal. Gibbo’s chance, I would never moan about what he did – his actual running again, he pressed, won the ball and he’s through on goal.

“He made the wrong decision at the time. That I think shows the energy and power of the running we’ve got in this team.

“As a group they showed great character, and the young lads are learning with every game. If they continue to learn they’ll become better, but I have to look after them and protect them a little bit.

“It’s great to have done all that work against a very good side, and we’ve come out on top because of the pens. It was about finding the balance because I wanted to win.

“A couple of lads were a little bit tired in training, Corey didn’t start, Jon was back from suspension, which helped. Then we lose him Saturday because it’s his last game of that suspension.

“There were a few players I wanted to protect, the forwards, I’ve done it the last four games now, two start, work hard and two come on. That works ok for us.

“The changes we made up top were because I just didn’t think the front two were having an impact. It wasn’t working, it wasn’t a good night for the forwards at all, but they did try to get it going.

“The circumstances with the goal we conceded dictated the change, we had to change it, and I want to try to freshen the team up when I can and when I think it’s necessary. You want to win it, and we stayed in it, and luckily we did what we needed to do.

“Thank god they’ve changed the rules for five subs to be able to be used, because I think it’s important – you could see how tough it was for the players. You don’t want to pick injuries up, and that’s a good rule change.

“It’s now the same for Saturday, trying to work out who’s the freshest and who we can look after.”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Keith Millen on iFollow United now.

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