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MANAGER: We kept going

More from Keith Millen following the Crawley home game

16 January 2022

United were by no means on their game on Saturday afternoon but they stuck to the task and earned a point when striker Lewi Alessandra nodded a Brennan Dickenson corner into the net deep into time added on.

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Speaking after the game, manager Keith Millen said: “We weren’t at the races from the first kick of the ball, really.

“We spoke before about the standards we’ve set recently and we asked if we could maintain them, but for whatever reason we didn’t start the game well.

“We kept going, which was great, and the desire to get that next goal was there, even though it wasn’t pretty. In the end that got us a draw, which we deserved on effort, but not on quality.

“I’m disappointed in the way we passed the ball. The quality of our passing wasn’t good at all. We gave it away far too cheaply.

“We’d talked about them being dangerous with the ball and we allowed the game to become too open and too spread. They looked more dangerous up front than we did, and that was because we were so wasteful.

“The gaps were there, without a doubt, but we didn’t exploit them and we allowed possession to be turned over far too much.

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“All of a sudden I sensed that there was a frustration around the place, and I was surprised that it kicked in so quickly.

“We’ve come out of it with a draw because of our effort and commitment, and another set piece, and it was great for Lewi to get on the move and score us a great goal.”

Having also spoken ahead of the game about the need for consistency, particularly if the team wanted to extend their winning run to four, he admitted that there was disappointment at the manner of the overall performance.

“We didn’t hit the standards we’ve set as a team,” he agreed. “We allowed the game to be too spread, and when we did pass forward we had no quality to it, and that’s not really us.

“We’re a compact team, in and out of possession, and we forgot that bit. Crawley are a good side on the attack, we knew that, and we didn’t press them enough.

“There were some strange decisions, I would say, and that’s a polite way of putting it. A lot happened in the game that I will analyse, but overall we have to get back to the standards we want to see when we have the ball.

“I tried to calm them down at half time, because I didn’t think it was the right time to go in there screaming and shouting. I could see that wasn’t the mood of the group.

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“I needed to remind them of what we wanted to do, but we never really got going. Sometimes that happens, you have these days where you’re not quite on it, but in this one we had too many players who weren’t on their game.

“The pleasing aspect is that our desire and work rate, along with the subs coming on, earned us a point.”

Any goal conceded is a disappointment, and the second half penalty decision can be disputed, but both situations came from uncharacteristic moments of hesitation.

“That’s something else I agree with, and I’m not quite sure where it came from,” he told us. “Again, we’d talked over the last few days about the fact that if we’re going to have a run of good results, which we want to try to continue, we’ve got to continue to do what we’ve done before.

“For whatever reason we didn’t look like ourselves at all. We’ve got to get back to the standards we’ve set, and which we saw on Tuesday, and we can put that right against Hartlepool.

“However, we have to say well done for keeping going. Heads didn’t drop, and suddenly the fans got behind us again, so instead of there being a frustration there was a real desire and drive to go and make something happen.

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“That was down to the players and the crowd working together, and the atmosphere changed. We need that, we can’t have these periods of anxiety. I thought we’d gone past that here at home, but it crept in. Hopefully we can learn from it and get back to our best game on Tuesday.”

But there’s an old adage in football that says if you can’t win, don’t lose, and that was certainly the attitude which saw the Blues through to their late equaliser.

“It’s important to fight for the point if it starts to look like the chance to win has gone,” he commented. “We scored the equaliser and I was screaming at them thinking - I’ll take that.

“They broke on us and had the chance at the end, so we had a little bit of luck. There were some strange decisions in the game that I’ll have to look at again, I felt the penalty was very soft.

“There was an incident in their box where there was a big scramble, I’ve been told one of their players fell on the floor and elbowed it away, but the fourth official told me they had to stop it before anyone gets injured.

“Stopping the game in case something happens is a new one on me. You could say we’ve got away with it a little bit because we didn’t deserve to win the game, without a doubt. Our desire to make something happen got us the point.”

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“We’re certainly not a team that’s beaten if we go a goal down anymore,” he added. “We generally weren’t good enough, but we put bodies forward, we had balls into the box, and that gave us some half chances.

“They had a few on the break, but I’m happy with the draw, if not the performance. I was disappointed how open we were, that’s not really been us for a while, and I thought Crawley exposed us in that respect.

“We allowed their midfielders too much time on the ball. They’re both good passers, so they were able to control the game.

“When you’re set up like we were it meant that when we did win the ball the gap between the back four and the front players was too big to get any sort of link-up play, so that was definitely a problem.

“We spoke about it at half time because - why we were doing that, I don’t know. Whether we got in that little comfort zone of thinking that all of a sudden we’re a good team and we can just pass the ball as we like, and that makes us drop off because we’re saying, yeah look at us, we’re good.

“I don’t think that’s what we’re about, I’d like to think we’re not, but it’s something I will be looking at on the video because we were far too spread as a team.”

Noticeable towards the end of the game was the backing from the crowd, who did their bit to cheer the lads on as the clock ticked down.

“They need us to do our bit to help them to get going, and started to getting people forward with more purpose in the closing stages,” he explained. “The gaps we knew would be there were there all game, but it wasn’t until it was almost too late that we started to exploit them.

“That’s disappointing because we’d worked tactically on where we felt we could punish them, and the full backs got out into loads of good positions. We had so many two against ones in wide areas, but our decision making and quality were what let us down.

“Omari coming on lifted everyone because he has that pace and sometimes unpredictability. We’ve had to be a little bit careful with him because he’s come to us, he hadn’t trained for probably 10 days, he’s had Covid, and sometimes we’re finding players say they feel ok but you get a little leftover of the illness.

“We know how dangerous and effective he can be and he’ll be better for the minutes he’s had today. 

“I possibly could have made changes earlier but it’s trying to read the momentum of the game. I did consider it during the break, but I thought no, I’ll give you 10 minutes to try and get our game going again, so it’s not a knee jerk reaction.

“Every team has a bad half. I tend to say ok, let’s put it right, and if it doesn’t that’s when I feel I have to make the change. In the end, we made subs to try to freshen things up, wait for something to fall or something to go our way, and that’s what happened.

“Lewi had the chance where he nicked it round the lad and you think he’s going to score, and then his goal. Sometimes it’s just a freshness that we add.”

“Overall it was a strange game, and one I don’t particularly like watching, where we’re not in so much control,” he concluded. “But that’s one of Crawley’s strengths, they do like to play an open game and try to outscore you.

“That’s how the game panned out. I don’t like us being like that. But in a way we’ve got away with it. We’ve got to be pleased, when you get a late equaliser you always feel better coming away from the game.”

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