United had a relatively young side out against an almost full-strength Preston team on Tuesday afternoon as the Lilywhites utilised the Central League Cup group game as an opportunity to keep their players ticking over during the international break.
Speaking after the game, assistant boss Gav Skelton said: “When you look at the team they put out you can see that it was always going to be tough.
“There were a few players who have moved for multi-millions of pounds in their careers, but that was always going to be the case when you remember that it's being played during the international break.
“Fair enough with what their manager did, because he’ll have wanted to use the pitch time as part of the process of keeping his players at a good level of fitness with them not having another Championship fixture for quite a few days to come.
“When you look at their team sheet you see a lot of names you recognise immediately and you could see the quality they have from the moment the game kicked off.”
“That’s no bad thing,” he continued. “Our younger lads will have learned so much from it. Our defence was made up of mostly youth second years and they were up against three attackers who we think have a combined value of over £40m, so that’s a great experience for them.
“They’ve seen the movement that comes with players of that level and, to be fair, they stood up to it in the second half and we created some excellent chances of our own.
“We played some good stuff in the first half as well, with shots at goal and moves that caused them problems, but they were clinical when they got into dangerous areas.
“As a 90 minutes it was very worthwhile and good for us to be able to play on a fantastic pitch against a very high level of opposition.”
On the reaction from the players during the half-time break, he told us: “As daft as it sounds I thought the defence did some really good stuff.
“People will look at the result and think that doesn’t sound right, but the likes of Ellis, Barnett and Kilsby won’t have experienced anything like that before.
“That’s why it’s not just a learning curve, it’s a really valuable experience. All four of the defenders did well, they stuck at it, and they worked really hard to do even better in that second 45 minutes.
“What they saw first-hand is that the players at the highest levels don’t miss if they get a chance to score.
“The really pleasing thing is that they kept going and there were spells in the game where we created some really good openings.
“Zach Clough went close, we hit the post, Manny and Taylor both beat the keeper but their shots went just wide, and some of their defensive blocks were vital from their point of view.
“It wasn’t a game where we were penned in and had to sit back, it was almost the case that we were most vulnerable when we were on the attack. That’s when they broke quickly and within one or two passes they were at our 18-yard box.”
And trialist keeper Adam Smith came in for praise following what had been a busy afternoon of football.
“He made some really good saves,” he commented. “He was disappointed with the first goal but he recovered quickly and some of his saves were top quality.
“Three saves from the penalty they had came one after the other and there's a few where he’s had to show instinct to react and get there quickly.
"It won’t have done him any harm in terms of him being here on a trial basis for us to take a look at him.
“He trained with us on Monday, he’s from the north-east so it’s a good area for him, and he comes with good references and a strong background. We’ll see how he gets on.”
“This was a good 90 minutes for us and it’s all about Saturday now,” he concluded. “As a group we spoke about the positives and negatives from last Saturday, we trained well and we’ll continue to prepare through the rest of this week.
“The lads are determined to turn the good things they’re doing into goals and points, and all roads lead to Bristol at the weekend.”