We caught up with manager Chris Beech immediately after full-time on Saturday afternoon to get his thoughts on the hard-earned home victory against fellow pace-setters Exeter City.
“I thought the players worked ever so hard in difficult circumstances,” he said. “To be in a position to play after such a long time not playing, especially when it means so much, I was really proud of the character, their energy in that game.
“I said to the lads, before the game, the substitutes will be as important if not more so than the starters, just because we’ve not played for so long, and because we’ve not been able to train outside.
“To play a possession-based and physical team in Exeter, especially when they had their fingers burned midweek, that probably made them not the ideal team to play. I’m really pleased we scored a great goal, didn’t have as many chances as we normally do, but I think that’s generally down to what we just talked about.”
And on the effort put in by every member of the team, he told us: “The centre-half made a great double-handed save and the ref didn’t give anything … we didn’t get the second goal which would have made the game feel a lot easier.
“Because of that Exeter will keep going more because they can sense the chance of getting something. But a clean sheet and a 1-0 win, I can’t say anything other than well done for that, because of the lay-off the lads have had.
“We restricted their shots on target with players doing different things. Jack played right back today, he did ever so well again. I thought second half our full backs did really well, Nick stepped up second half and defended much better.
“In midfield, Joe Riley’s energy and some physicality now, always been question marks on him from other people, but I’ve encouraged it out of him. For him to play as dominantly as that, really pleased for him. The substitutes, Brennan was excellent, JJ was, it helped us win.”
With so long without a game we wondered what he’d said to the lads in the dressing room after they’d secured the points.
“I’ve just said you’ve found your legs,” he revealed. “It was great we could get on the pitch on Wednesday, but because we worked so hard we had Thursday off.
“We had 11v11 for 45 minutes with sprints as well, and gym work. I knew if I don’t give them a body blow, you can’t catch up when the game starts. Me and Gav decided to work them as hard as we possibly could, for a good hour on Wednesday on a good surface, and it was only the second time we’d been outside since January 1.
“It was always going to be hard today but I knew I had to do it, I knew Exeter would ask us questions, but we answered them, so well done.”
“The quality of the goal, we all enjoyed that,” he added. “Omari, I’ve just said joking, you had a great 12 and a bit minutes and a lovely rest after that.
“He did great, composed, he’s got good skills Omari, good finishing skills as well, but today he made sure his mate scored, so well done for him.”
And the full time whistle brought the now customary deluge of good wishes and applause on social media.
“I’m just very pleased for everybody connected to the club,” he admitted. “The supporters must be over the moon because they’ve had to wait so long for a game.
“For the players to deliver when we’re not firing on all cylinders generally, because we’re not in rhythm, I’m really pleased. That shouldn’t be taken lightly, because they worked really hard, dug in and that’s probably the most pleasing factor.
“We started really brightly and that was also important. Omari was taking the full back on every time he got the ball, didn’t necessarily cross or shoot all the time, but he was making the ground.
“The midfield looked structured, Lewis was getting involved, Ozzy was trying to get involved, it was good. The full backs were attacking, and that was probably our best period for domination. We had four or five shots, but they were a bit wild.
“The goal wasn’t, it was excellent, but when we had opportunity to make it two we weren’t quite in rhythm, but today will do us the world of good for moving forwards.”
And on clean sheet number nine of the season, he commented: “We won a lot of first headers. Bowman, a Carlisle lad, from these parts, he’s physical, pushing and pulling.
“If you watch the game back, how many headers he won, the answer will be none, but he pushes and pulls your centre half as he tries to win our header. He’s fouling really, but unless the referee pulls it up, he can play the game on his terms.
“The ref let a few things go, I think he tried his best not to book too many players but you can see in Exeter, the double-handed save, the foul on JJ, the pull back on Jon Mellish when we’re counter-attacking, he let these things off really.”
With new boy Offrande Zanzala and relatively new boy Ethan Walker both getting valuable minutes, he told us: “It was nice to see Ethan, but I’ve told him, while he’s here, he’s got to sprint, got to get that ball back.
“He jogged about off that free kick. He’s been through a lot, he’s come back from his injury and I gave him 10 minutes or so there, so he’s got to step up. He will, because he’s got great skills, he did some great things in the box.
"His work rate, that’s what happens when you’re young, and I think more than ever because of academies. How to win a game, see out the last 15 minutes, make a footprint and imprint on it, to get three points.
“Those things aren’t really taught any more. Who can Cruyff turn it at the back, who’s got the diagonal, who can hold it, very good, but that’s probably why Preston are letting me try to teach him these other bits and pieces.
“And Ozzy, he got his start because he was starting on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday in that game, the blues beat the bibs 5-1 and he scored three goals. So he was very, very lively. And he is lively, and now will understand us a little bit more.
“He will have had a little look in at us, seen what we’re good at. He’ll definitely get his goals and will cause people problems.”
As for what the lads will be doing as they prepare for a run of eight games in just 28 games, he confirmed it’s as important to stay safe as it is to keep on top of the fitness levels.
“I told them all to go home and everybody who’s not had the virus, don’t leave your bedroom, come back negative on Monday and then I’m in a position to pick a team for Tuesday,” he revealed. “Footballers want to play, and today, like anything, we’ve all done a bit.
“I’ve done a bit in the 10 days, I’ve trained myself a little bit. When you get back on the bike, it’s very difficult to get your second wind. I think the substitutes helped us do that, but as a team I think we’ll be better for it.”
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