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MANAGER: We were nowhere near good enough in the first half

More from manager Keith Millen following the Saturday game

30 January 2022

United boss Keith Millen gave us his reaction to the Sutton game shortly after full-time on Saturday afternoon.

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“We knew what Sutton would do and I picked a team that I felt was best acquitted to deal with what they do, but in the first half we didn’t cope with it,” he told us. “We didn’t win the first ball and we didn’t get around each other for the second ball.

“We seemed to slash at our clearances and there seemed to be a panic any time the ball was near our box. They punished us for that, they’re very good at what they do.

“They had a centre forward missing but they had another one to come in who is even bigger. They’re full of confidence and they know what they’re doing, and that is hard to deal with. That’s the reason why they’re on a good run.

“It was disappointing in the first-half, we didn’t cope with them. I don’t expect us to win every header because they’re bigger and stronger than us, but when the ball drops and you get the chance to defend on the ground, that’s when I expect us to be better.

“It was nowhere near good enough for the two goals. In the second half we showed a good spirit, and a little bit of belief that we can get on the ball and pass it. We were on the front-foot and we put them under pressure, which was pleasing, and we got back to what we’re good at.”

“We got in good areas but there wasn’t enough end product again, which is the same story,” he added. “Joel [Senior] was galloping forward in the second half and getting into good positions, but we couldn’t punish them.

“If we’d got one goal it maybe would have become a bit more of a panic for them, but we couldn’t create a clear-cut chance to score. Overall I was pleased with the response in the second half, but first of all we had to earn the right to play and fight, and we didn’t do that enough today.

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“Going two goals down is a mountain to climb but it was important that we didn’t go under and that we kept believing. We kept going in the second half and we pinned them back for long periods.

“I was pleased with that, but they were two up so they probably just sat in a little bit and protected their lead. I’m not saying we were brilliant by any means, but we made more of a game after the second half.”

With the result coming off the back of the defeat at Forest Green, he confirmed that it was important to pick things up quickly with another tough fixture spell ahead.

“We’d had two poor performances, last week and the first-half today, and we’ve got to settle down,” he agreed. “There are a few new players we’ve got to bed in, which isn’t ideal.

“For me, Sutton are the best in the league at what they do, and that’s why they’re up there. They’ve got that momentum and belief, and you’ve got to hold your hands up and say they’re very effective.

“They were very good at getting the ball forward, being big and strong, getting hold of it and winning the second balls. We weren’t strong enough against what they do and that was what really cost us the game. Even though we picked up, had more possession, the damage had already been done.

“And we were wasteful with situations where we need to be better. Set pieces are so important, and that’s something we spoke about before the game.

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“You can do all the clever movement and we’ve now got some big players who you think can be quite aggressive at attacking the ball. If the ball doesn’t get delivered it doesn’t matter. That was disappointing.

“We did get into some good areas and put some good crosses in at times. Set piece delivery wasn’t good enough.”

And that contributed to another game where the cutting edge was lacking, as good positions and situations were spurned.

“It’s been a problem all season,” he said. “It’s not a fear but there’s a lack of confidence. It’s almost like I want to take the shackles off a bit more, want them to go for it a bit more, believe they’re going to score.

“That’s a problem I’ve known about since I’ve been at the club. We’ve tried to address it in this window, and we’re finding it difficult.

“That’s something we’re all aware of, and a frustration. First of all before that, if you concede two goals in the first-half by not competing well enough, you’re always going to be against it.

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“Like I say, I told the players after the game that I stand there thinking I want to take the shackles off them. The first thing you’ve got to do is get hold of the ball, and if you aren’t winning the first or the second ball then it’s very difficult to get any momentum.

“We don’t seem to be able to get hold of the ball enough, as in hitting a target or someone playing it to someone’s feet. If you looked at Sutton, they had a big centre forward and everything went through him.

“He either held it up or flicked it on, and from that you can pick up the second balls and play. We don’t have that type of player, we’ve got a lot of forwards who can run and beat people, and make things happen, but we don’t have that balance of being able to play into someone.

“It’s been like that since I’ve been here, and probably all season, so that’s what we’re looking for. We want that type of player who we can play into and the ball sticks. Players like that can make different things happen.

“When we do get the ball down and our full backs get on, we look ok. But when the ball comes into those dangerous areas, have we really got that belief or that hunger to turn it into a situation where you’re going to score.

“We lack that player who has the instinct to do that. People who score goals are normally selfish and they don’t want to be involved in the build-up play. They want to be on the end of the moves. We’ve got a lot of players who get involved in the moves, but nowhere near enough at the end of it.”

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“And Sutton never allowed us any real time,” he continued. “They pressed us and we weren’t good enough to punish them.

“We’ve got to recover, it isn’t a case of panic stations at all because I think we’ve just played the two most effective teams at what they do.

“It shows where we are, but we know we aren’t competing at the top of the league. We haven’t become a bad team all of a sudden. We’ve got a lot of games left, so I’ve got to remind them of what we’ve done well.

“Against any team, you’ve got to compete better than we did today. We have done recently, I don’t think I’ve said we were second best in that respect in any other game, but today we came up against a team that was a different level.”

On the support received from the fans as they did their best to help the team get going, he commented: “It’s vital. It wasn’t like that when I first came here, it really wasn’t, and I can understand their disappointment from the first-half.

“The minimum you want from your team is to see them fighting and competing, and it’s frustrating when you see your team being second best. I totally understand where they were with that.

“They got behind us in the second half and we got a bit of momentum going. We were close at times to getting that second goal, which might have made a difference, so it’s great that they’re helping us.”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Keith Millen on iFollow United now.

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