It was a frustrated United boss who joined the press after the game on Saturday afternoon having watched his side edge the game in terms of possession and domination, but ultimately pull up just short with the missing ingredient of a goal to go with another much-improved performance.
“Generally, my first thoughts are, pleased with the performance,” the manager told us. “When we don’t have the ball you can see there’s a real understanding and structure to what we’re about.
“They had a spell, a 15-minute spell in the first half, where we struggled to deal with the long kick. Every team’s different, you have to respect that, their keeper’s got a really long kick, and quite rightly they use it.
“For a little spell we didn’t deal with it very well. They got the ball wide, and they got a couple of crosses in where they had some good opportunities.
“But I thought we started the game really well, really positive, we turned them, created opportunities and that got the crowd going.
“It was a great atmosphere, really enjoyable, but when you have your good spells in games that’s when you have to score. We had that 15-minute spell where I said to them at half time, you have to manage the game.
“Nobody dominates for 90 minutes. You’ll have your good spells, hopefully score in those spells, and when you don’t you have to make sure you don’t concede.
“We were a little bit fortunate in the first half, we know that, but once we got going, the energy, the way we moved the ball, there was only one team really going to win it. It was just a matter of whether we could finish the chances that came our way.
“We hit the crossbar and we had enough opportunities to win the game. Look, I’m really pleased, it’s been a really good week, three good performances, but frustrated that we’ve not scored when we really deserved the three points.”
But it was always going to be a game that would have an extra edge, particularly with the ‘local derby’ factor thrown in.
“There were a lot of competitive players out there that realised the importance of the game,” he agreed. “You could sense that because of the noise of the crowd, and I thought both teams had a real go.
“What pleased me was we generally coped with the way they played, and then we had an identity to what we were trying to do on the ball.
“What I’m trying to do is get this group to be as effective as possible. That side of it I’m quite pleased with, that we’re actually dealing with the opposition, and then trying to do what we do.
“Instead of dealing with them and doing the same, I want us to try and play to our strengths. But it can be frantic, and I think in derby games that’s the sort of game you get.
“I watch Liverpool-Everton, it’s full-on, tackles, everyone wants to win. I felt that’s how the game would pan out, and it did.”
Expanding more on that issue of the need to start finding the back of the net, he said: “It is frustrating, of course it is. It’s frustrating for everyone, fans, players - they’re not meaning to miss.
“The good side of it is we’re creating opportunities, passing the ball, mixing our game up well, but we don’t just pass out of the back for the sake of it. It’s to try and create problems for the opposition, and that side of it I’m really pleased with.
“We’re getting balls into dangerous areas. I’ll have a look at the stats, but it will be interesting to see how many balls we got into the box.
“Mind you, I didn’t realise we were going to swap shirts during the game. Three times the referee let it go, you could see it, I could from the touchline, they’re pulling our shirts, but they’re saying to me it’s not enough to interfere with the game.
“There was twice they weren’t even looking at the ball, they’re pulling our player’s shirt and stopping us getting on the end of a pass. How’s that not interfering with the way the game’s going?
“I was disappointed we didn’t get a decision go our way, but you have to get on with that. Generally, I’m really pleased where we are. It’s been a good week. We’re not the finished article by any means, but there’s more confidence in the group.
“Three clean sheets in a week is a great foundation, we just have to get better at what we’re doing.”
There was a situation in either half which could have led to home penalty kicks, with both Brennan Dickenson and Tristan Abrahams hauled to the floor as they tried to make a telling connection.
“I saw the one in the first half on Brennan, on video, and without a doubt he was pulling him back from getting the ball,” he explained. “Then the one with Tristan you could argue, maybe we’re pulling as well.
“But our players are trying to get to the ball, and there’s a difference. Their players aren’t even looking at the ball. They’re stopping the opposition getting to where the ball is, so for me it’s a foul.”
So on how the game has left him feeling, he said: “I’m not brushing the frustration aside quite yet. It will take a couple of days.
“When you do a lot of things well, and feel you deserve more than you got, that’s the frustration. Sometimes you draw games where you’re holding on and you’re quite happy with a draw, but our mindset has to be, those draws have to be wins.
“That has to be how we go forward. It hasn’t happened for us this time, but it must start to be the case. That’s why we dust ourselves down over the next couple of days and get ready to go again.”
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