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MANAGER: It came down to the key moments again

More from Keith Millen following the Stevenage victory

12 December 2021

United put on a very professional away display at the Lamex Stadium on Saturday afternoon to come away with a well-deserved win in front of just over 200 very happy festive United fans.

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“The win is for them, as far as I’m concerned,” manager Keith Millen said. “They came to Mansfield on Tuesday, and they know we deserved something from that one, and they’ve come again – in more horrendous conditions – but this time they’ve seen their team win.

“From the first whistle you could hear them, and we need that. They’ll have a good week now, and hopefully they’ll be really up for the Bradford game because it’s brilliant when they’re cheering us on.

“I know it makes a difference to the players. Quite rightly I made sure everyone went over to thank them for that.

“The singing they do, hopefully it’s an appreciation of what we’re trying to do, and we’re working really hard to make things better.

“We’ve got a long way to go still, without a doubt, but it’s a reward for what we’ve been working towards recently. I really appreciate the support from the fans. I think winning makes us all feel better.”

Speaking more about the three points picked up on Saturday afternoon, he added: “It was just what we needed and there’s no denying that it was a pressure game.

“It wasn’t a six-pointer or a must-win, but we know they’re a team that’s around us and I made sure the players were aware of that. I don’t like the ‘six-pointer’ comments and things like that, because the games aren’t that at this stage, but they are a team close to us, so it was big in that respect.

“What pleased me most was that I looked at the opposition and I changed the team a little bit. After Tuesday, and for a while now, we’ve been doing a lot of good things but we haven’t scored goals, and I felt as the manager that I needed to try to think of something a bit different that just might change our luck, or help with momentum and belief.

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“That’s why I put Sam Fishburn and Jon Mellish up front, because they give us a bit more of a presence. We spoke about a better quality of ball into the box, and I wanted us to be a strong and aggressive team.

“It’s all worked out perfectly because the conditions weren’t brilliant and on top of that you have both teams going out there to fight for their lives. It wasn’t pretty on the eye, but when it came to competing and fighting, we got that.

“That was our identity in this game, because it needed to be. I told the lads before kick-off, if your parents, friends or whoever are coming I want them to be talking about how fit and strong you all looked after it’s finished. Staying organised and adding bits of quality to that won us the game.”

Having demanded that the players work hard to stay in games, that became another feature of the 90 minutes, with the tenacity leading to the away side taking the lead ahead of the half-time break.

“We’ve been doing that for most of the games since I got here, to be fair, and it’s only been the lack of goals that’s cost us,” he told us. “You can’t win every game, of course you can’t, but even when we’ve gone a goal behind in games we’ve competed.

“I’ve been quietly confident because I can see how much it means to the players that they put things right. There wasn’t much in this game at all, both teams worked hard, and it came down to the key moments again.

“We worked on set pieces and it was a great delivery. Kelvin [Mellor] attacked the ball with aggression, he meant it, he wasn’t just going up to make the numbers up.

“He meant it when he headed it and obviously Jon Mellish was in the right place at the right time, and he has a knack of doing that. It was a real bit of quality from Jordan Gibson later on, which he’s showed at times, and he wins us the penalty.

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“The lads did what I asked of them and they made the plan work for us. We tried to stay solid in our shape, and I felt we looked dangerous on the break. We had a few opportunities in the first half, as did they, without any real clear-cut chances going either way.

“We spoke about our lack of goals from set pieces and that was another reason I felt we should go with a big side. It was something to take advantage of and that’s how we scored our first goal.”

A tweak in personnel proved to be an inspired decision as Jon Mellish notched his third of the season – once again from being in the right place at the right time.

“The game plan worked, and I decided to change things a bit by putting Mellish up front as a 10, or a nine, with Sam beside him,” he explained. “That gave us a bit more of a presence up there because I felt like we needed to be more aggressive in forward areas.

“When you looked at us today you saw a strong, physical side and as it turned out, we needed to be, because it was that type of game. It wasn’t a great footballing match and I think you could see that both teams knew the importance of it.

“From that point of view we competed really well, and we added the bits of quality we’ve spoken about. I didn’t want to build this game up, I didn’t need to, but we knew it was a big one.

“Scoring from a set piece is pleasing. We worked on them, but we couldn’t do loads because we haven’t had much training time, but certainly Thursday was set piece day.

“We spoke about it, and we worked a bit on Friday on them as well, but for me it’s more the mentality. When you’re going into the box, ask yourself why you’re in there.

“Are you going up there with the mindset that you’re getting on the end of that delivery, or are you just there? Kelvin is a perfect example because he made that cross his. He attacked the ball and that’s what we got our rewards from.

“I told the players, we will be bigger than them somewhere on the pitch. Callum put a great ball in, and Kelvin was just aggressive. Jon was on the spot. It was pleasing that stuff we spoke about and worked on really won us the game.”

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

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