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MANAGER: It's one where we competed well

More from Keith Millen on the Walsall home win

28 November 2021

United picked up their third league win of the season in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon when substitute Tristan Abrahams pounced to smash an 88th minute volley into the back of the net, sparking fantastic celebrations and the type of reaction from the fans that the game is all about.

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“If you’re going to score the winner there’s no better time really,” manager Keith Millen said at his post-match interview. “It doesn’t give the opposition much time to come back. My feelings at the moment are that it’s a reward for all the work the players have put in since I’ve been here.

“Northampton was two days after I arrived, and it wasn’t irrelevant, but it definitely wasn’t us. Since then I can’t fault the players for what they’ve tried to do, they just haven’t had the results.

“It wasn’t the best of games, or the easiest to watch. It was difficult, windy, cold ... welcome to Carlisle ... it was that type of game. A lot of things pleased me, but the main one was that Walsall are a big, strong, physical side and we matched them.

“That’s exactly what we have to do in the situation we’re in. We didn’t pass the ball as well as I would like us to, but I think that was mainly down to the conditions.

“We were solid, yes they had a good chance in the first couple of minutes, but we didn’t start the game particularly well at all. We got our legs going after that and we defended well.

“I wouldn’t say we were comfortable, because we gave it away too much, but we were solid when they came at us. That has to be us, because there’s no denying that we’re struggling to score goals.

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“If we stay in games, hopefully something drops for us, and if you take that chance you end up with what happened for us today.”

“I’m so pleased for Tristan because he’s worked his socks off for the team in the last two games,” he continued. “He hasn’t looked like scoring, so I felt, just to give him a bit of a rest, we’d start with him on the bench.

“I said to him in training that it might be the case that he comes on and he’s fresh when the opposition are tired. In those situations something might drop for you, and I’m delighted for him that he finished his chance off.

“He deserves that goal on the back of all of the hard work he’s done in the two previous games. It’s a good goal to score because we spoke about it at half time.

“You could see the type of game it was. It was going to be the small details that decided it. We asked the lads if we could concentrate for 90 minutes, and I thought they were brilliant with that.

“Like I say, it’s then hoping that something drops, because we could tell that something in that game was going to fall for one of the teams. Luckily it was us that got it.”

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Having asked for a winning mindset heading into the game, he said: “We got it, but it wasn’t there in the first few minutes.

“We were a bit slow to get going, they were definitely on the front-foot more, then we had that little bit of luck when Khan shot. You think that’s going to go in the bottom corner, and it goes wide.

“From that you say to yourself, ok, let’s go then. After that I thought it was a pretty even game. We had to compete, Walsall are a big side, and I was really pleased with that side of it.

“It wasn’t an easy game to get our passing patterns going. We had to battle and it’s that type of aggression I wanted to see.

“You don’t have to be 6ft 2in all over the pitch, you can still be aggressive in the way you shut down, people like Gibbo sprinting to shut people down, that’s aggression. I was pleased with that side of things.

“I was also really pleased with our shape, even though it was difficult for us to get our movements going. We hit the post, but they never opened us up, and that was important.

“In the previous game, the two goals we conceded weren’t acceptable from a team point of view. I’m delighted with our clean sheet but it was the way we kept it, and that’s the basis of what we are.

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“We have to reorganise, we’re not a prolific goalscoring team at the moment. If that’s the case you have to keep it tight and I’ve always said, if we can score early I think we are a different team.

“That’s not happening at the moment, but if you score in whenever, I’ll take it. I actually thought we ran out of legs a little bit in the last 10 minutes and they looked a bit stronger than we did.

“The last sub ended up being a difficult decision, so the reason for putting Manny on was to match them up in midfield, by putting Taylor in there, because I wanted us to be a little bit closer to them.

“I’m not saying it worked, but that was the idea, and after Tristan had scored you just have to defend with your lives. The lads did that, to be fair.

“To be honest, as soon as we scored I’m thinking how are we going to keep a clean sheet. My first thought, I didn’t even know what was going on with the celebrations, I was thinking how can we make sure we don’t concede now.

“I’m trying to talk to a couple of players, saying do this now, this is what I want to see, and when the fourth official puts five 5 minutes up, that’s a tough five minutes, we’re kicking and heading every ball with the lads through that.

“We defended brilliantly, I don’t want to single players out, but the defence, a lot of balls were going in there and we were winning everything. I was really pleased with the defenders especially.”

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And the midfield pairing of Callum Guy and Corey Whelan also played their part in stopping a build up of momentum through the middle third of the pitch.

“That was a difficult decision,” he admitted. “I just felt when I went back over the two goals we conceded on Tuesday, we were wide open in the middle of the pitch, and that’s one thing I can’t accept.

“We spoke and worked on making sure that box in the middle stayed solid. I thought Callum showed a captain’s performance, he really drove forward, was on the front-foot. I think he led by example in that position.

“We kept that middle of the park really solid and any team, that’s your foundation of not being countered like we were on Tuesday.”

As for the feeling in the dressing room afterwards, he told us: “I think it’s joy. I hope it’s joy. You have to enjoy these results because we all knew the pressure of the game.

“I didn’t want to build it up for the lads, but it was a tough game in not great conditions, it wasn’t a great spectacle from a football point of view. If that’s the way we have to be sometimes, that’s the way we have to be.

“In this league especially if you win the next few games by the odd goal there’ll be no complaints. I personally don’t hype games up for the players, I try to protect them, and I think everyone knew we needed it.

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“It wasn’t a must-win, it’s never that until you only have one game left in the season, but everyone knows we’ve got two cup games coming up and we’ve just had two defeats.

“You know if you don’t win you’ll have all of the questions that are going to come because it’s been so many games without a win, we haven’t scored, and all of these sorts of things that you have to answer, which is no problem, but at least we can now talk about what was an important win.

“The manner of the win is always the most important thing, and as I’ve said before, I don’t look at the league table, it doesn’t concern me yet. It will concern me with a week to go. What does concern me is the attitude of the players and the way they’re trying to play, and I can’t fault that.

“You could see that the fans were with us, cheering, nervous, and we have to deal with that because that’s where we are at the moment. We’re not the perfect team by any means, so to have an identity where we’re organised, we’re solid and we’re creating chances, but we’re not scoring that many goals, then if it has to be a one goal win for the next few games, so be it.”

“And to hear the fans at the end, I’m surprised they remembered the words for singing about a win, it’s been that long for them since they’ve been able to do it,” he joked. “They were great, they got behind us, and it was a good atmosphere.

“You’ve got to enjoy these days, and we will. The great thing now is that we’ve got two big cup games coming up and we can go into them without the pressure of not getting a result in this one.”

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

Click HERE to see a clip from this interview on our YouTube channel. Follow the same link for more FREE content right from the heart of the club.


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