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MANAGER: They showed me that they trust each other

Paul Simpson on a group of players working together

1 April 2022

United boss Paul Simpson used the first part of his Thursday afternoon press conference to look back at Tuesday night, with the dust having settled and the focus now firmly on the weekend game.

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“It’s been a case of let’s just crack on,” he said. “I can’t change what happened on Tuesday night. I always find it quite interesting, because I have to make a decision before each game as to which team we go with.

“Sometimes that works out for us and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s always easy afterwards to think about what could have been done, and to hear people give their opinion, and that’s something I do myself as well.

“I spoke to a few people and they told me I was being harsh with myself with what I said after the game, but if you lose a game you have to look at the reasons why. They always have to be reasons, not excuses, because there’s a difference between those two things.

“I watched the game back while we were on the coach, and I watched it again on Wednesday morning, and I looked closely at the areas where I felt we could be better.

“Once that process is done it has to be onto Tranmere, because that’s the next game we can do something about. It’s now about getting things right for Saturday, and the players have trained well, they all seem fine.

“I’ve told them what the schedule is for April, and I’ve told them that we have a six-game month and we want to win as many of them as we can.

“No one game is more important than any other, but the next one becomes the important one because that’s the one in front of us.”

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With the fans having stayed behind to applaud the players at the Crown Oil Arena, it suggested that the view from the terraces perhaps wasn’t as harsh as the appraisal from the dugout.

“I agree that we weren’t a million miles away from it,” he conceded. “It wasn’t tactical or technical things that lost us the game, it was just little things that we can put right.

“In my mind’s eye I think of the situation where the ball went high, their defender headed it into the air, and it dropped in a midfield area where we had six players behind the ball to deal with probably just two of theirs.

“It’s just about keeping the front-foot mentality that would have seen us challenging for that ball in previous games. It didn’t happen in this one in the first half.

“It did in second half, and we saw that we were the team that looked more likely. We had Brennan Dickenson who closed their right-back down and he was onto the ball for a cross, and Joe Riley was pushed on, winning it and crossing for either Kristian or Jack Armer.

“Those front-foot moments are what make things happen and we need more of them. There’s no point sitting back and defending and hoping for a draw, that isn’t what I want to watch, and I don’t think it’s what our fans want to watch either.

“I think they stuck with us because they saw us have a go, and that’s all they ever want.”

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And he revealed that the players had taken matters into their own hands as part of their half-time turnaround.

“The good thing is that I went into the shower area in the dressing room, to get out of the way, and all I could hear was that they were the ones who were digging each other out,” he told us. “I always give the players a couple of minutes on their own while I speak to the staff.

“They weren’t fighting or having a row, they were just talking to each other out about what hadn’t gone right in the first half. That’s a real positive for me because it shows there’s a group of players who trust each other and who can give honest criticism to each other.

“I think when you have that you’re on a real good footing and that impressed me. They started the process of getting ready for the second half before I went in and made the points I wanted to make.

“That’s really good because it doesn’t happen everywhere up and down the country. I’ve gone into dressing rooms where it’s been complete silence, nobody wants to speak or they aren’t brave enough to give their opinion.

“None of it was over the top, it was all honest criticism and comments, but it was a demonstration that knew they hadn’t done that first half properly. When I was ready, I actually had to step in and say, right, shut up, sit down and get your drinks, and that’s when I started to speak.

“I never wanted to get to a stage where there’s fists and stuff flying around, but it certainly wasn’t that way. There’s a good spirit amongst them, and I think that comes from winning games.

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“Even the experienced lads who aren’t starting, they’re quite willing to throw their opinion into it as well. The more opinions you have the better. That’s the thing I’ve really enjoyed about working with this group of staff.

“Everybody knows I have to make the final call on it but they’re all willing to offer their opinions and they’re all prepared to challenge me. That’s really good - if you’ve got a challenging group of staff, it’s got to make you better and make you think about it, rather than me saying it’s that and that’s the end of it.

“They’ll say, have you not considered doing this or that, and I always listen, sometimes I do it, other times I say no, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to stick with my idea, but I think that’s really good. When you’ve got staff and players doing it, it’s a good environment to be in.”

And he drew on some of his own experiences as acknowledgment of where the buck always stops.

“I think I’ve probably realised that you can’t just shout and scream at people,” he said. “It doesn’t work any more. Maybe I have learned that over the years.

“I certainly didn’t do it as a dad, but definitely over the years I’ve learned that the calm approach is better. I think working as an assistant has helped, because as much as I like to win, it just isn’t the same pressure that’s on you as there is on the manager.

“I always used to smile when Steve McClaren would come to me and say that we had a big decision to make. I’d ask him what he meant, and he’d tell me we needed to pick the right team, and I’d immediately say, no, you’re the one who needs to do that.

“I’ll give you my opinion, but you get paid the big money to pick the team, so over to you. That’s what it’s like, there’s never any point in getting stressed about things once you’ve made your choices.

“What you do need is to be consistent in how you do things, how you work, and in your messaging, and everybody then buys into you more. If you keep chopping and changing your thinking or how you behave, it’s destabilising.

“I think I know what I want to be and what works for me, and I’ll try to stick to that. I’m not saying I’ll always do it, and at half time on Tuesday I probably didn’t do it, but I hope I didn’t do anything that lost me any players. We got a reaction in the second half so that’s all I’m bothered about.”

So the days of lobbing tea cups have long gone?

“You don’t get tea in the dressing room these days, the oranges are long gone as well, so that won’t happen,” he joked. “Like I say, it was good to hear the players talk about things during the break on Tuesday.

“I wanted to get my head together, speak to Gav and Paul Gerrard, and then to Jacob when he brings the video in. We look at what we want to say, and I only ever have a couple of strong points to make.

“I don’t think there’s much use in overloading people with information, so there are usually three things maximum that I’ll highlight. Preferably it’ll be one thing about us in possession, one about us out of possession, and one on set-plays.

“It doesn’t always work out that way, but that tends be how I do it.”

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