United boss Paul Simpson used Tuesday night’s Papa Johns Trophy game as an opportunity to get minutes into legs for players who haven’t had maximum pitch time recently, with just Corey Whelan and Omari Patrick the starters from Saturday to make the cut.
And an intriguing encounter went the way of the visitors as United spurned good moments, only to be punished at the other end by a goal conceded in each half that proved to be enough to give the under-21 side the points.
“We weren’t clinical enough,” the manager said. “We weren’t good enough in the final third. We huffed and puffed and created a few opportunities, especially in the first half.
“Second half we didn’t have as many that were clear cut, and if you don’t take your chances you get punished, which is a big learning curve for us again.
“It’s been the story of our season so far, and maybe the story of last season a bit as well. If you can’t finish chances and finish teams off then you’re going to make it difficult, and that’s what’s happened in this game.
“We have to put that right. The only way you’re going to is by working hard and making sure you repeat the skill day in day out in training, and take it seriously.
“Too many times when we do passing drills and when we do finishing drills, we don’t work the goalkeeper enough. I’m afraid if you can’t do it on a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday, it doesn’t just happen on a Saturday.
“I’ve only ever come across one player in my whole career since 1982 who didn’t have to train but was world class on a match day. We are not, it’s as simple as that.
“We’re not that, I’m not that as a coach, the players aren’t that as individuals, and we’ve got to make sure we work as hard as we possibly can every day to give ourselves the best chance of being successful.”
Perhaps a question that could be raised is to ask if there was a feeling going into kick-off that the win was there to be had.
“Not a chance, I used the opportunity to make sure everybody gets minutes, but that isn’t complacency,” he insisted. “Taylor Charters is coming back from injury, Duncan Idehen has just come in, so I needed him to play.
“Jayden, Jack and Sonny all needed minutes and we also had to manage the rest of the group. It’s important to have everybody up to speed with games.
“We’ve got a Central League Cup game next Tuesday where lads will get minutes again because I need to have everybody up to speed. You cannot replicate matches in training, you have to play, I think that showed tonight.
“Jayden was shattered at the end, Duncan had cramp after 60 minutes, Jack Ellis was ill when he went off and Taylor was only ever going to play 45 minutes.
“There were things we’ve seen tonight that we can learn a lot from. I think this is a really good competition for learning, we’ve learnt a lot about our squad, some good and some negative things.
“My biggest learning is we’ve got to try and get close to the technical ability those young Manchester United players showed. We might not ever get to that level, they’re at that club for a reason, but we’ve got to do everything we possibly can as people and players to get to that level of technical ability.
“You also have to know that you can’t expect anything, you’ve got to go and make it happen. I don’t think there was any level of complacency at all. We prepared exactly the same for the game, we had a meeting with the players yesterday when I showed them the things they’re capable of.
“We also showed them the areas we felt we could be dangerous and could exploit them. I think we’ve done a lot of positive things, I also think they have, they’ve got some right good footballers.
“You’d like to think in a year or two possibly some of those lads will be playing on a Premier League stage, and hopefully they’ll have learned things about where they need to go with the physicality and that sort of stuff.
“My main concern is to make sure we’ve learned a lot of things, and I hope that’s the case. Something I wanted to do before the game was have a look at a back four, and we were able to do that.
“We’ve used it as a little bit of a trial run for things we might need to do as the season goes on, so there’s a lot of good things that have come out of it. It’s a game that mattered a lot to me, so I’m really disappointed that we lost.”
And on the reaction in the dressing room after the game, he said: “They were quiet. To be honest I didn’t give them a chance to speak or ask them any questions. I just told them my thoughts.
“There was no ranting and raving, it’s not a case of that. The only way we can react is by coming back in on Thursday and making sure it’s sleeves rolled up and we’re ready to go come Saturday afternoon, because that’s the next one that matters.
“Good teams take slaps in the face and they move on. We’re trying to achieve a status of being a good team. That’s what we’re working to try and do.
“The only way we’ll show that is by making sure we react properly at the weekend. I’m not going to get too screwed up about this, I’m disappointed we’ve lost, we’ve had opportunities where we could have kept ourselves in the game and possibly gone on and won it, or got a draw and took it to pens.
“The chance we had as early as the second minute, it could have been something to hang onto. Before I went into the changing room, I was looking at the earlier kick-offs, and Burton Albion went 4-0 up within 12 minutes against Leicester’s under-21s, and you think that’s the momentum you need to take.
“I happened to see it finished 4-2, Leicester obviously had a bit of a go after that first 12 minutes. We should have been one-up. Not could have, should have.
“We had other opportunities that you have to be clinical. Really pleased we’re getting in the areas, creating the opportunities, second half we did, the simple truth of it is you have to be able to finish them.
“If we’re going to improve and stay in a positive position in the league table, we have to be better in that final third.”
“When I say clinical, I mean in your passing and in your finishing,” he continued. “You’ve got to take your chances, simple as that. We’ve had that a lot of times this season. It’s got to be better.
“You can keep talking to them and working on it and I totally accept that at our level, we are not going to be absolutely outstanding at everything. But we’ve just got to work to be as good as we possibly can be.
“At the moment I don’t like the fact we’re not finishing but I’m happy with a lot of our play. I think we’ve gone from a point last season where I didn’t think we were creating a hell of a lot, but this season we are.
“There are really good things we can take from it, but the deciding factor in games of football is both boxes. You have to be really resolute and solid defensively in your own 18-yard box, and you’ve got to be really clinical when you get in the other one. Sadly we weren’t.”
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