United’s back-to-back victories under new manager Paul Simpson have been built on solid team defensive displays, and right at the heart of the matter has been Morgan Feeney, who found himself to be the subject of chants from the terraces on Tuesday night as he completed a series of important blocks and tackles.
But, in a typically grounded interview after the Rochdale game, he disagreed with the assertion that he’d just put in his best personal display in a Carlisle shirt to date as he insisted on concentrating on what he needs to improve on, as the work on strengthening the blossoming partnership with Dynel Simeu and Jon Mellish continues.
When asked if he agreed that the recognition from the fans had been a reflection of a very good performance, he quite bluntly replied: “No, but thanks.
“I think that’s the way I play, I’m always determined to defend, but I can’t sit here and say I’m a hundred per cent happy with the way I played. I did what I had to do so I’m happy about that, but you’re always nitpicking your own game.
“It’s nice to know the fans appreciate you and that you’ve done something good. You feel unstoppable when you’ve done a few good blocks and it’s like that, with the crowd behind you singing your name.
“We all feel like that because the crowd gets behind us all. There’s a lot we still need to improve on but we’re working hard and completely focussed on winning.”
On the importance of backing up the Orient win with another good result at home , he commented: “It’s a positive, but it was important for us all to stay calm and take the feeling from Saturday into the game.
“There’s a good level of confidence in the group now and that’s come from the week we’ve had. We’re all lively in the dressing room and we’re getting each other going, and things like that, so we’re just looking forward to it.
“We’re not concerned about the table so much, we’re fully aware of the situation, but it’s all about taking on the next game and getting as many wins as possible.
“The good thing was that we were all confident, especially after the win at the weekend. There was a really good feeling in the dressing room and on the bus back after that, because if we get a bad result the journey home is usually painful.
“It was almost like we couldn’t wait to play again. We had the day off on Sunday but you’re sort of like just itching to go again so you can carry on putting things right. I’d say the confidence is really high at the moment and everyone is smiling around the place, which is always good.”
And a return to a more buoyant feeling heading into the stadium is perhaps an acknowledgment of the cloud that was constantly there as the team suffered a disappointing run of results.
“There was a cloud, and we were hurting more than anyone,” he confirmed. “We were trying to fix things from the inside, amongst ourselves, but in terms of what’s changed, we’ve just come together well as a group.
“You can talk tactics, and all that, but I think more importantly you can see on the pitch that when someone does something well we’re all high-fiving each other and you can see it means something to us.
“The subs, the players on the pitch, we’re all pulling together and helping each other through it. There’s some good experience and we’re all drawing on that, and we’re in a good place at the moment. Hopefully that will continue.”
So do you learn something about yourself as you head through a difficult spell like that?
“Games come thick and fast so you’ve got to learn things along the way,” he commented. “I’m lucky because I’ve got Mark [Howard] behind me who has bags of experience, and I’ve played next to Rod [McDonald] this season, and they’re always talking to me and giving me pointers.
“It’s not just them, it’s all the players, and you’ve just got to soak it in like a sponge. The dogfight thing, I like to think that’s a bit of me and how I play anyway. I like to step up and take that challenge on. You do learn a lot about yourself and what’s inside you from something like this.
“We sat down as a team and spoke about the fact we needed to take responsibility and start performing. With the two games since the new manager came in, we’ve done that, which is a perfect start.
“It’s never perfect though, we know we need to be better with certain things, but it really is just about winning at the moment. That’s the basic thing you need from football and when you get it right you can start building on good foundations.”
And the best foundation, of course, is a clean sheet, something all defensive units pride themselves on.
“It’s about time!” he insisted. “We needed a couple, to be fair, and we want to keep it going.
“I want to get a clean sheet from every game until the end of the season. We had that good spell around Christmas where we were getting a lot of clean sheets, and it was hurting us a team when that stopped.
“It hurts the keeper and defenders more when you don’t get it, because you feel like you’re not doing your bit. If we can make it three in three on Saturday then it’ll be a perfect week.
“The football league is crazy in terms of what happens if a few results go your way. You can end up in a completely different position off the back of a couple of wins.
“Personally I don’t keep track of the table too much. I’m aware of the situation but we’re all just thinking about the next game. If we win we can only go up the way from there.”
With six points in the bag from what was a hectic week there’s no avoiding the fact that the mood has lifted, with the response from the fans extremely positive as they got behind the team in numbers once again.
“They’ve been amazing,” he agreed. “When someone wins a header they’re all cheering, and you see Dynel, he’s doing laps round the pitch, you know what he’s like with all that.
“To be fair we all get a buzz out of it, and it can carry you sometimes. If you look at the clock and you see 10 minutes left, you know you’re defending for your lives, and even though it’s a cliché they become like a twelfth man.
“It felt like that on Saturday, even though we were away, so they’ve been massive for us. Hopefully the crowds will keep getting bigger and they’ll keep it going for us.
“Swindon seems so long ago now. It’s chalk and cheese because there was a feeling, almost no doubt that we were going to win against Rochdale. We just knew.
“No-one said it aloud, but you could tell by the atmosphere. I think you could see from Saturday’s performance, Tuesday’s performance, everyone’s fighting for each other.
“If someone made a mistake, someone was there to back them up. Maybe it hasn’t been like that for the last however many games. But I’d like to say we’re building on things well, two games and two wins is a good start under the new manager, but it’s just a start, we want to keep going.
“Obviously it feels sweeter sometimes when you are defending, putting bodies on the line. Probably from a fan’s point of view you don’t want to see that nervy sort of defending your box type thing, but as a defender I love it personally.
“I just want to defend the box all the time, when there’s blocks, tackles, clearances, that’s just me. The more we get bombarded, the more I relish it. We’re doing it well.
“We said at half-time, they had a couple of chances where Mark’s made a few good saves, but we trust Mark to do that, like he trusts us to block shots.”
And on his place in the back three, he said: “In terms of the system, tactically and things like that, I’ve played in that system loads of times through my career.
“I’ve played in a four, three, five, whatever you want to call it. I think more than anything it’s about the fight, it’s about doing it well.
“You can take all the technical and tactical things out of it. It’s about everyone on the pitch just fighting for each other. At the minute that’s clear and obvious.
“And we’re getting a good reaction off the fans, which I suppose is all they can ask for, us going out and fighting. We’re trying to do that until the very last game of the season. There’s a good feeling in the dressing room at the moment.
“The season hasn’t panned out how we wanted it to go, but the old saying tells you that you should never get too high or too low in football.
“You just have to focus on the job in hand. It’s an opportunity, a challenge, to relish, and grab by the scruff of the neck. Just fight to the end of the season.”
Having been through a stressful week, as it is for any club that loses a manager, he confirmed that for the players it’s about picking things up quickly and doing things right.
“It was a strange, strange week and it all came at 100 miles an hour,” he admitted. “It’s never nice seeing a manager go, and the old manager was a really good fella as well.
“It’s obviously sad when that happens but it’s the nature of football. In my short career so far I’ve seen so many managers come and go, so it’s about rolling your sleeves up and saying that you need to stand up and be counted for the new manager who comes in.
“We’ve just got to fight like our lives depend on it through the last 13 games. I’ve worked with Simmo before in the England set-up, he always impressed me then, and the coaches he had with him then, I didn’t think I’d be fortunate enough to work with him at club level.
“I’m relishing that at the minute. It’s a good thing that I know him already and he knows me. I’d like to think he knows what to expect off me, so it’s a good relationship that can only do us good for the end of the season.”
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