There was barely time to blink at Rodney Parade on Tuesday night as the Cumbrians roared out of the blocks with one of their fastest ever goals – a ripping finish from Joe Riley following an excellent passage of play which saw the net bulge with just 38 seconds on the clock.
Great goals, superb saves, controversial decisions and a red card and a penalty followed, with United left feeling disappointed at the final whistle that they hadn’t taken more than a point for their efforts.
Speaking after the game, Gav Skelton said: “It was a good game, in the rain, and we’re left with mixed feelings and emotions.
“I’m pleased with how we played and stuck to it, and I’m happy with the number of opportunities we created. It was good to see us work their keeper, he made some fantastic saves, he’s probably their man of the match, but it’s disappointing that we didn’t go on to win it.
“I’ve just had to pick the lads up in the dressing room because they’re disappointed that they didn’t get the victory. They had the belief that they were going to, but they didn’t quite get there.
“We were disappointed to go in behind at half time, to be honest, particularly with us starting the game so well. They had a lot of possession, but they weren’t hurting us, and they started to get frustrated with that.
“We had one occasion when we jumped out of our shape and they picked us off. We can’t hide away from the fact we should have defended that one much better on the edge of our box, and the second goal was a poor one to concede as well.
“He waltzed through us and you have to defend that better. To get to where we want to be we’re going to have to protect our goal better, and not just as a back four. As a team we gave those goals away too easily, and we’ll never be happy with that.”
“After half time there wasn’t much in the game,” he continued. “I thought we really started to grow into it, our forward players were on the ball more, and it felt like the goal was coming.
“That was the case before they went down to ten men – how we didn’t score from some of the positions we got ourselves into I don’t know – and once we got back level you felt we would go on and win the game.
“At nine men we made a couple of bad decisions which let them off the hook. We had an overload where we could have kept possession, but we tried to rush things, and it got scrappy and bitty and the way we wanted to play got disrupted.
“Overall I was pleased with the effort and how we performed.”
Looking back at the unbelievable start to the night, he commented: “It was just a long 95 minutes after that, wasn’t it!
“You take a goal any time and we know Joe [Riley] is a good footballer. I’m pleased for him because he was disappointed not to play on Saturday.
“He performed well, he’s a good player, and we have good players here. He can play in a number of positions, and both Corey and Jack are unlucky to be left out. Those players who haven’t started will be disappointed, but it’s a good squad and when you get a chance you have to perform.
“The selection is no reflection on any of the lads because we’ve got a strong bench there, but we did start well and hopefully confidence will come from that.
“With the amount of chances we made and the type of football we tried to play it can only help to breed confidence.”
The confidence from going ahead was there for all to see, and that’s what made it so difficult to stomach two goals being conceded in the space of just three minutes.
“We wobbled a little bit, let’s be up front about it, and that’s why it was important to get through the next 15 minutes and into half time properly,” he told us. “It wasn’t a time to be flash, or to do silly things, we needed to stay compact and do things right.
“The two goals we conceded were unacceptable. If we want to get out of where we are then we’ve got to defend better than that, but it happened and we had to deal with it correctly.
“We didn’t need to chase the game at that point, and we spoke about making sure we didn’t do that through the early part of the second half as well. I was pleased with how they responded to that and with how they went on to play themselves back into it.
“It was good to hear some of the voices at half time and the number of players who were taking responsibility, because it’s all of us who have got us into a position where we don’t want to be, and it’s all of us who are going to get us out of it, especially the players out on the pitch.”
And it felt as the second 45 minutes ticked on that it was just a matter of time before an equaliser would be found.
“When you’re creating good chances your confidence grows, and the players start to pass the ball sharper,” he explained. “The surface was fantastic, it was a brilliant night for a game of football and the people who are here will have enjoyed it.
“I must mention our supporters because they sang their hearts out and a few of the lads spoke afterwards about how much they were able to take from that. It spurred them on and it’s great to see when the supporters are behind you. The noise they made was great.
“The last few away games have been difficult at the end so I think the players were pleasantly impressed. It feels great for them to have the fans clapping them off rather than giving them a bit of stick.
“It’ll help them grow in confidence. Coming away from home on a Tuesday night, on a long trip to Newport, and going back home with a point is definitely something to build on.”
Speaking more about how one point could so easily have been three, he said: “We did have a lot of chances, and we know if we keep playing like that we’ll start to see the wins coming again.
“I was right behind the one where Zach bent it but the keeper made a great save. He is an excellent footballer. He’s had an illness and injuries, so hopefully this goal will help him to push on.
“I’m sure he will. He’s desperate to do well, it’s just finding that exact right place for him to play. He was a big part of our movement going forward and you felt a goal was coming, but unfortunately in that last 10 minutes or so we couldn’t build any momentum.
“Hopefully it’s a flag in the sand, or whatever the saying is, and we build from there. The belief was there, and that’s another positive, because it’s something the lads take away from it. They know they could have won this, and that starts to get them back to the levels they know they can reach.
“We’ve seen some great goals scored against us and hopefully there’s one around the corner in our favour. Whoever’s in charge for Saturday, next week or whatever, that’s something to build on.
“I think the lads hopefully will grow in confidence. You can talk all you want, but we keep talking about responsibility and they stood up tonight. It’s a home game on Saturday, hopefully the fans will be behind us like they were tonight and we can build on it.
“It’s a bit of a Catch 22. We needed to give them something and they gave us something.”
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