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INTERVIEW: It was a good tempo

Gav Skelton with reaction to the Tuesday night game

1 September 2021

The Papa John’s Trophy meeting with Hartlepool United at Brunton Park on Tuesday night had just about everything, including a penalty shoot-out which saw the Blues claim the bonus point after some excellent keeping from Lukas Jensen was backed up by some well-taken spot kicks.

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Speaking after the game, Gav Skelton said: “It doesn’t take away any of the disappointment from Saturday, but it definitely feels nice coming out and winning a penalty shoot-out after an entertaining game like that.

“This competition has doubters for a number of reasons but it’s a competition you can get to Wembley in. There aren’t many tournaments you can actually win – you’re not going to win the FA Cup or League Cup, realistically.

“But you can win the league and this cup. We want to take it seriously. I think the way the players approached it, yes, people can say you rested or rotated or whatever, but anybody that was here or heard it about the way the lads approached it, it definitely mattered.

“Would we like to go to Wembley? Too right we would. We know the league’s the most important and we’d swap tonight’s result for Saturday, but it is what it is.

“We’re disappointed not to win the game over 90 minutes but at least we’ve won on penalties, and that’s some comfort.”

Speaking more about the changes to the starting line-up, he told us: “Both teams did it, that’s why it’s a good tournament for that reason.

“I think we’re very pleased with the performance, I could probably go through three or four but it’s not fair to single out when everybody has played a part.

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“People did themselves no harm, I thought we started the game at a good tempo and desire. Saturday hurt us all, but it’s only one league game and I thought we bounced back as a squad in training yesterday.

“The supporters were disappointed and so were we, but so were the players. Training had a real edge to it because everyone knew we should have been better. Hopefully we’ll take that into the weekend.”

The night brought first senior goals for Taylor Charters and Manny Mampala, moments they will remember and which, no doubt, will bring a real boost to their confidence.

“Manny started the game well with the way he pressed and tried to drive with the ball,” he commented. “With that first chance that he scuffed he probably had too long, he could see it coming and didn’t quite take it.

“But credit to him, he kept getting between the posts, didn’t hide and he gets his goal. He’ll feel good for it and overall, really pleased with the performance from him. 

“For him and Taylor, they probably won’t sleep tonight. The adrenaline will be going, we’ve won on penalties and they’ve scored. Taylor wasn’t in the squad Saturday, he scores tonight and gets the winning penalty, plays the full game, I’m pleased for him because he does work hard – that’s football, the highs and lows.

“That’s something you have to learn to cope with. Right through, I thought Jack Armer, you forget he’s a young lad, I thought he was excellent. Sometimes you don’t give him credit, he’s almost grown into a man. Right through the team, pleasing.”

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One definite learning point from the game was the manner in which Pools came back, with the victory seemingly wrapped up after Tristan Abrahams had smashed his finish home.

“You do expect to win if you’re two goals up with 10 minutes to go,” he agreed. “You’ve got to learn fast with things like this. It happened to us a couple of times last year, hopefully when we get in those positions this season it won’t happen again.

“We made subs, they did, we should have been 4 or 5-1 up, but the lad put it in the top corner and they got a lift. You can look into things too much and overall we are pleased with the reaction from the players.

“When it went to penalties it just felt like we were in a good place. Lukas was excited, he was the only one delighted it got to 3-3 because he backs himself. I thought he made a couple of good saves in the first half, he looked assured, his distribution was good.

“We did practice penalties yesterday, that’s why the ones who took it took them, we had a plan for it, and Lukas practices loads, as does Magnus, for these occasions. The practice paid off in the end.

“Mind you, I wasn’t too sure about the Brad Young penalty. I said to the gaffer that I don’t know if I like that, but as long as they go in you can’t complain. Jack Armer took a penalty how you’re meant to take a penalty – they don’t come back when you hit them like that.”

On the return of Danny Devine, he added: “He looked sharp and that’s great to see. The plan was to take him off at the time we did so hopefully he’ll be fine. 

“It shows we have flexibility in that area when he comes in and does what he did. Jon Mellish played very well, but he’s disappointed with giving the penalty away.

“I said, ‘You did well [tonight] Jon’, and he said, ‘What’s the point, I gave a penalty away’. Which is credit to him. But I thought he performed well there. He’s played left-sided centre-back before and he looked comfortable.”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Gavin Skelton on iFollow United now.

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