United’s Central League Cup meeting with Preston on Tuesday afternoon provided a real test for a young defensive line-up, with manager Chris Beech confirming that the back four will have taken a lot from having come up against players of that quality.
“I think Preston approached it in a really professional way, which is commendable,” he said. “With it being the international week for them it means they’re without a fixture, and the players and staff at that level tend to shoot off abroad and things like that when that’s the case.
“I think the manager told them before the game that if they did well they could have a few days off, so they were in quite a focused mood to make sure they got what they got out of it.
“It was a great learning experience for our younger players. It was the youth team back four that we put out and they were playing against a Championship standard forward line and midfield. That made it difficult for them, but they will have taken so much from it.”
“At the time our lads will be disappointed that they’ve conceded goals, of course they will, but within that they can step back and think that they were up against people like Sinclair, Murphy, Potts and other players of that high standard,” he continued.
“They do set the bar very high, it’s why they play where they play every week, and it’s a valuable lesson when you play against that - if you’re willing to let that lesson in and understand it.
“Often as it’s happening, and you’re being slapped in the face, it’s hard to reflect at that point, but I was quietly impressed with a number of the performances. Jack Ellis did really well, because he was up against some great speed and players with real attacking prowess.
“He made one mistake, which he will learn from, but other than that he was very good. It sometimes doesn’t make sense when you’ve conceded five goals to say that there have been good things on show, but he held his own and he impressed me as a younger player.”
With the squad back together today for their Thursday morning session, he told us: “Jordan Gibson has been ill so I’m looking forward to seeing him train today.
“He did a bit yesterday so that’s good news for us because he’s made an impact since joining us.
“Rod McDonald is getting nearer. He’s had a little bit of a delayed concussion situation and that has to be looked after properly along with the requirements that accompany that kind of thing.
“And we talk often about team spirit and players giving their all, and we saw that first-hand last weekend.
“Magnus [Norman] had that collision when the midfield player went straight in on him when he was through, and it was brave goalkeeping, but he’s found out that he’s broken a little bone in his leg and damaged a ligament.
“He’ll be out for a while. Testament to him is the way he stood up and got on with it to help with his team mates at the time, because he thought it was just a knock and that he would recover.
“He felt it was just a bang on his shin and he got up and carried on, and it wasn’t until afterwards in the dressing room that he started to think it might be a bit more than that.
“That shows the type of player he is, but unfortunately the type of injury he’s picked up now means he’ll be out for a period of time.”
In reaction to that a quick move was made to bring experienced stopper Adam Smith into the fold, with him getting 90 minutes of action in the Preston reserve game.
“Sometimes things happen and you have to react,” he explained. “We never do anything for fun, there’s always a reason, and we need to make sure we’re competitive and secure.
“Adam trained on Monday, played on Tuesday, and he’ll be with us again today. We’ll have to wait and see how that all pans out.
“There are a lot of things in football, and I suppose in life as well, that you don’t plan for, and this is one of those situations.
“All you can do is move quickly to resolve it when it comes, which we’re looking to do. In terms of the injury, I have a few examples of a little bit of a lack of protection which I’ve shared with the referee’s association, but that one with Magnus was a 50:50 challenge and I don’t think the lad meant to do anything to cause harm.
“Ultimately Magnus will now spend time on the sidelines, but it is commendable that he looked to deal with it at the time, thinking that he was shaking off a knock rather than suffering from something more serious.
“He’ll work closely with our physio now and he’ll go through his rehab programme in the right way.”