United’s first half at the Peninsula Stadium on Tuesday night brought an almost unprecedented situation with three injury substitutions required before the whistle had blown on the 45 minutes of play.
Defenders Rod McDonald and Joel Senior both suffered what looked like nasty strains, the latter requiring a stretcher, and captain Callum Guy battled with a hamstring injury before making way for the return of Joe Riley.
“None of them look great,” boss Keith Millen told us. “Joel, I don’t know what that is yet.
“Callum is a hamstring, which isn’t good, and Rod looks like a calf injury which happened as he landed.
“They’re not knocks, they’re more contacts or twists, and we’ll just have to wait and see how bad they all are.
“The worry is that they aren’t the type of situations where you think it’s a bang and they might be ready for Saturday. It’ll test us, but that’s why luckily we’ve got a bigger squad and we can cope with it.”
“The players who come in have a job to do and if they play with belief they can help us to turn it around again, no problem,” he added. “It’s football because yesterday we were thinking what a big squad we had, but all of a sudden we need the numbers.
“Hopefully they’ll bring a fresh mindset because they aren’t scarred by the season we’ve had here. I need to integrate them quickly and get us going again.
“The pleasing thing is that we have a togetherness, and that’ll keep us going, but we need to now add quality to what we do so that we can rebuild our confidence.”
Having lost the players before the break, he commented: “I thought we dealt with it, we didn’t go under or crumble.
“To be fair, Morgan Feeney has been unlucky, he’s done ok, and he’s come on and done well again. Corey Whelan can play at right back, so we were ok.
“I thought the back four was decent, so it’s the decision making that we need to change. I can’t stand there and just see some of the decisions we’re making in the ball retention and the decisions on when and what to do with the ball, that’s hard for me to take.”
A huge lift for everybody was the noise from the crowd behind the goal when Joe Riley came on.
“I said to him at half-time I didn’t realise you had such a big family!” he joked. “That was a bit of a strange one but, whatever.
“Joe’s ok, he understands, we’ve been talking to each other, he came on, he’s got that composure, but you’ve got to have the right balance next to him.
“You can’t have two footballers in the middle of the park because you’re going to come off second best. First of all, in this league, you have to win the battle. If you don’t it doesn’t matter how good a footballer you are, you’re not going to get the ball.
“I look to try and get the balance right all over the pitch. Joe got on and had an impact, and that’s great for him and us.”