United’s youth team battled their way to an important victory last Saturday with a solitary Mason Hardy goal enough to take the points over fellow title-chasers Salford.
Speaking about the game, under-18s boss Mark Birch said: “It was a good result because the frequency of the games has been a little bit stop-start in recent weeks.
“To get back into winning ways is good, even though it probably wasn’t the level of performance we were looking for.
“The important thing is it was the right result at the end, the lads dug in and they did well to get the three points.”
“We said to them afterwards that if you don’t play well, make sure you take something from it, and that’s exactly what they’d done,” he continued.
“This level is about development, everyone knows that, but you’re still looking for individual performances and the way the team plays.
“Development means doing the right thing as a team and within your role, and learning that you don’t just do it once, you keep it up for the full 90 minutes in every game.
“You won’t always get that but you have to strive to get it as consistently as possible.”
Another pleasing element from the result was the character shown by the players, who went into it fully aware that a win was needed to keep them in the hunt at the top of the pile.
“The lads watch the table and the other results,” he confirmed. “They’re always talking about who beat who and what it means, and they probably pay more attention to that than we do.
“They knew completely where both teams were in the league and they also knew the importance of a win.
“These are the kind of games players want to be involved in at this level, and they took it seriously, which was good to see.”
The goal was another on the tally for first-year forward Mason Hardy.
“Mason has been under the radar a bit because Nic [Bollado] and previously Sam [Fishburn] have grabbed the headlines,” he told us.
“He’s chipping in and we set him a target just after Christmas of seeing if he could get another ten goals before the end of the season, and that’s him on four now.
“A strong first part of the season has been built on, so he’ll take confidence from it.
“All of the players are still performing well, to be fair. We have to tailor the training around the fixture schedule, and we’ve had a few under-17 friendly games along the way to keep the younger lads ticking over, and the lads have adjusted well.
“The way we do our fixtures here is that we try to get as many played before Christmas as possible, to avoid the worst of the weather, and that means we aren’t constantly playing catch-up.
“It does leave you short of games in this period and that’s when it comes down to making sure you prepare properly.”
Currently sitting in second place, he commented: “I think we can still do it.
“Preston are in the driving seat at the moment but we still have them to play. A couple of their games in hand are against teams at the top of the table, so all we can do is carry on doing what we do and try to get as many points as we can from our last seven games.”
Watch Mason Hardy's winner here:
United: Simons, Potts, Bell, Carr, Ellis, Kilsby, Watt, Bollado, Fishburn, Hardy, Garvey (Taylor 71). Subs – Boyd, Gordon, Hill.
Goal – Hardy (30)
Booking – Carr (82)