United were the architects of their won downfall on Tuesday night as they gave away sloppy goals to a Port Vale side who took full advantage of the chances they were presented with.
With a stark assessment of the performance at his post-match press conference, manager Keith Millen said: “We’ve made that too easy, you can’t disguise the manner of the goals.
“No one means to make mistakes, but we are making too many. They’re unforced errors and we’re getting punished for them. That’s a big problem.
“I think it’s more about the mindset now, we’re in a fight. We were in a fight when I first came in and when I looked at the dressing room at Northampton, I could see there was some work to do, and we’re in the same position again now.
“There has to be a realisation now. We’ve had four defeats and I’m not going to sit here and start talking about the way we played or anything like that, it’s a mindset and we were second best.
“We need to put a team out there that is going to fight and battle to keep a clean sheet. That’s the first thing we’ve got to do to turn things around, you can’t keep conceding all these goals, because it’s irrelevant what the rest of the game is like.
“You can pass the ball and create chances, but if you’re conceding goals like we are, you’re going to lose football matches. That’s the run we’re on, and I have to change that.
“It’s a mindset and a mentality, and we might need a change of shape, we’ve got to work out a way. We’ve got a lot of new players who need to bed in as quickly as possible, and we’ve got a lot of injuries.
“We had five first-team starters missing tonight, but that’s not an excuse. It’s about me now getting this group to realise the position we’re in, and we’re fighting for our lives. That’s how we have to think about it.”
“There are no days off anymore,” he added. “We’ll be in tomorrow morning [Wednesday] and every day.
“If we have to get angry and fight with each other then that’s what we have to do. It’s not because I dislike anyone, it’s because I want the best for them.
“I can’t keep going along saying we need to work on this or that, it’s a mindset. We need to add some anger and desire to keep a clean sheet which will give us some foundations, because at the moment the foundations have crumbled.”
With the first goal coming almost before the echo from the referee’s whistle had faded away, he spoke again about the need to be on it from the moment the white line is crossed.
“Whatever work you’ve done, conceding as early as that knocks you back, you can’t deny that,” he agreed. “We’ve given away far too many bad goals, so I need to look at simplifying what we’re doing.
“If we’re not in that position as a squad to play like I want us to play, I’m experienced enough to know that I’ve got to change it. It doesn’t matter what formation we play, we’ve got to fight and we were second best again.
“First of all, we’ve got to get that anger in ourselves and that’s what I’ll do for the rest of the week. Any player who makes an error - Joe, he knows he’s made mistakes, but no-one means to.
“You can see how much it means. My job is to pick him up, protect him, definitely protect the group, but they also then have to react very quickly now, and that’s why it’s important we get them in on Wednesday.
“You can’t afford to let it dwell. We’ve got to put it right because we were second best unfortunately in a lot of the physical areas and on top of that we got punished for the things we did wrong.
“My job now is to alleviate the mistakes we’re making in whether it’s the shape, the personnel. When we conceded that early goal you could see the confidence go and the heads drop a little bit.
“I’ve got to try to change that mentality and get more anger and aggression in our game. It’s not about what we’re doing with the ball it’s about being a nasty, hard team to beat, and we’ve lost that for different reasons, it’s gone.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries and personnel missing, and we have a lot of new players, and that’s not ideal. The mentality that’s been here at the club over a long period has to change and we must get back to what it was four weeks ago.”
Having made those demands, we asked if he’d seen the response from the players he’d wanted to see having shared some frank thoughts in the dressing room after the game.
“I said to them that now is not the time for me to start talking about formations or shapes, because it doesn’t matter what shape or formation you play, if you’re second best in key areas you’re generally going to lose the game,” he explained. “If you make bad mistakes, and we haven’t got enough cover, you’re going to concede goals.
“That’s what’s happened to us. It was me saying to them that the mentality has to change. It’s not about tactics or anything like that, it’s about our mentality. We have to demand more and it isn’t going to be comfortable for anybody, because we don’t deserve to be comfortable.
“If you’re hurting you have to change it. I won’t sleep tonight and I’ll be coming in on Wednesday morning trying to think of ways to put it right. The players have got to take responsibility as well, so we’ll analyse it very quickly, me and the staff, and we’ll start preparing for Saturday.
“It’s down to me to get a reaction from them and down to me to pick a formation which will make us more solid. In possession we’re still too wasteful, so I need to simplify what we’re doing with the ball to make us more effective and more solid as a team.
“You always have to go back to a solid foundation, that’s what we spoke about when I first came into the club. It shows the softness of the group that we’ve had a good little run and now we’re on a bad run.
“We’ve got to quickly snap out of it, and coming in the day after the game isn’t a punishment, but you can’t perform like that then expect to have a day off to sit at home with your family with your feet up.
“This is our job and our careers, so we’ve got to come in and talk about what we’re doing wrong, then it’s down to me to put it right.
“The four defeats hurt us all, and it’s the manner of the defeats as well. It’s not like we’re playing well and being unlucky, we’re second best in the games. That has to change.”
Speaking more about the way Port Vale started to control the game, he told us: “I think we ran out of legs a little bit.
“Tobi Sho-Silva and Owen Windsor did some good things, but I knew they would tire, and they lost a little bit of energy as the second half went on. We were never really able to get anything going in the final third, which is why we tried to change it a bit.
“Dev coming on showed little glimpses of his ability on the ball, and Kristian we tried to put on there just hoping something might drop for him, but we never really got in behind them.
“Goals change games, and when you look at the timings of the goals, first minute, just before half time, they’re killer times to concede. But these are things that go against you when you’re on these bad runs.
“I’m thinking go in at half-time 1-1, we weren’t great but we could try and put a few things right, and then you go in 2-1 down and it drains the confidence a little bit more. Concerning is being more of an attacking threat, but more concerning is the goals.
“If you concede three goals you aren’t going to win many games. We know we have a young group and there’s a lack of experience.
“I felt Port Vale were strong in the right areas, key areas, when it was a 50:50 they were clever, used their bodies, they were stronger than us.
“When you’re second best in those areas you’re not going to pick things up. We never got a foothold in the game. There’s been games mainly against the bigger, stronger teams where we have been second best.
“If that is the case then I have to look at trying to make us a bit more structured and solid in our shape, because at the moment if we are getting bullied in the first contact, we have to make sure we have people around in the second ball.”
And with the bottom segment of the league table a tough read at the moment, he said: “I have to make sure we put a team out there that’s going to really fight for the points.
“If we do that, and we’ve done it before, it’s not like we’ve been on a bad run since I’ve been here. We’ve had a good run and we’ve looked a good, solid team and for different reasons we’ve lost that.
“We’ve lost that clean sheet mentality, I don’t know why, and obviously if I knew I would try and put it right. I have to think of a way of getting that clean sheet mentality back again, whether it’s a change of shape, a change of personnel, so that’s my job in the coming days to try to put that right.”
Click HERE to watch an interview with Keith Millen on iFollow United now.
Click HERE to see a clip from this interview on our YouTube channel. Follow the same link for more FREE content right from the heart of the club.