It wasn’t always pretty, but United stuck to the task on Saturday afternoon to claim another vital three points in their bid to climb away from the relegation zone as efficiently as possible as the number of games left to play heads towards single figures.
Another game where every ball was contested saw the Blues edge their way in front when Tob Sho-Silva swept his third for the club into the net, only for the team to be pegged back late in the day.
But that setback was brushed aside when a teaser of a free kick from Callum Guy brought a penalty and a subsequent spot kick clincher from Jordan Gibson.
“Sometimes you have to stay in a game, and that’s what we did,” manager Paul Simpson said. “They’re a really tough side to play against and to be honest they did exactly what we expected them to do.
“We knew they’d get it forward early, and that they’d be a threat, and we knew they’d keep putting it at us.
“We know they’re good at set plays and with long throws, they’d scored 21 goals from set plays before they came here, so the way Paul Gerrard had it all set up and organised was superb.
“Gez was in charge of defending set pieces and I thought we were magnificent with that. He did his job, he took it on himself, he got the players together for the first time to go through them on Thursday, and we worked on it on Friday out on the grass.
“I think that when you work at things you get your little bit of luck and we got it here with the way we defended. It was a difficult game but what a massive win and what a feeling at the end. I have to say it’s a huge relief again, but what a feeling when that final whistle goes.”
Having notched three victories against teams in the bottom half of the table, it was a signal sent to take the spoils from the club currently in second place in the division.
“I was told by people that we’ve not laid a glove on the top teams this season, we’ve gone down with a bit of a whimper, and I don’t know what the results were against teams who are up there, but I came into this game thinking that this could be one where we got tested a bit,” he told us.
“We were, but we showed that we’re up to it. We made a few little tactical changes and adjustments at half time, we knew we needed to try and stop the ball coming into the box at source, and I wanted us to pick up more second balls.
“I think the big thing out of this win is that it’s the whole group again. Brennan Dickenson has come back, Tobi Sho-Silva has come off the bench and made an impact, and people are telling me it was his first touch for the goal.
“The composure he showed is fantastic because it’s not easy to do that. He’s just come on and he’s gone through to slot it past the keeper, that’s great for him.
“He showed that he’d prepared himself properly to go on and then Brennan did his bit because he used his strength to keep the ball then feed it on.
“Gibbo was so calm with his penalty, and that comes from a set play where the delivery was right. I thought it was a penalty, I have to say it was a handball, I don’t know if they’ve complained about it, but it looked like it to me.
“He is another who showed real composure, and I must admit that I did panic because when I asked who was on penalties I was told it was Kristian. So, when we got it I was thinking, oh no, because he was obviously off the pitch.
“I was wondering who it would be, and I saw Gibbo go for the ball and he was as calm as you like. After that I thought the whole team showed good game management in the way they kept it in the corner.
“As much as it’s a bit ugly, it’s what needed to be done, and the majority of that two minutes was spent in their half.”
Speaking more about the first goal of the game, he said: “Tobi deserves it for the work he does. That’s credit to him because it’s really easy when you’re left out to sulk.
“I left him out of the first game and it would be so easy to get the bottom lip out and have that sulk, but he hasn’t done that.
“He works really hard in training, he’s so professional, he’s so keen to learn and improve, and he’s getting his rewards.
“If you do Monday to Friday properly in the way you prepare for games it makes Saturday really easy. He’s making his weekends easy because he’s doing Monday to Friday really well.”
“I was obviously a bit disappointed with the equaliser because the lad got a free header,” he continued. “I thought we could have worked harder to stop the cross but, let’s be fair, they’re not second in the table for nothing, or just by chance after this many games.
“Before the game they were 23 points ahead of us, and I highlighted that to the players yesterday, but I actually felt it was a game we could win.
“If we played our football and kept the ball moving I felt as though we could get some joy. We didn’t do it as much as I wanted us to but, when we did, we caused them real problems.
“In the first half we probably had two really good chances and Kristian Dennis worked his socks off, and that’s probably the first chance he’s had, with that snapshot, in four games.
“He’s getting stronger, better and fitter and even though he isn’t scoring, he is effective. I’m really pleased with the work he’s doing because he softens centre backs up, then Tobi comes on and does his thing to get all his plaudits. I suppose that’s football.”
With the clock ticking deep into added time there was a sense of real expectation when Callum Guy stood over a free kick, with blue shirts flooding the area.
“It’s all about confidence, that kind of delivery,” the United boss said. “Gav does the attacking set plays, we talk about it, but he’s in charge of that.
“Credit to him because he’s got them organised and he’s got Callum in a good state of mind where he’s prepared to go and stick it on the money.
“It’s another really good ball and I get frustrated when we hit the first man, or the keeper comes and throws his cap on it, so it was a brilliant delivery and people with a bit of desire wanting to get on the end of it.
“It was actually the fourth official who gave the penalty, he was the one who told the referee it was handball, and I was so pleased to see that happen. What a feeling, what a noise, what an atmosphere, let’s keep it going.”
The whistle had been blown, but there was still the rather daunting task of putting it away to be completed, and up stepped hero of the hour Jordan Gibson.
“I’ve had one of those myself, and I was actually only talking about it recently when I was at a fan event at Derby,” he told us. “It was 90 odd minutes and we got a penalty at Oldham, and we were going for promotion, and my legs turned to jelly.
“Luckily everybody was arguing for a good while so I was able to settle myself and pick the ball up and get on with it.
“I was really pleased for Gibbo because I think it’s fair to say this wasn’t his best game. I think that lad has got some ability, there’s something in there, but to step up and do that shows a good character.
“I was so pleased for him, because we were talking about subs, and one of the options we discussed was changing Gibbo. I said, yeah, but he’s capable of producing something, he’s got something in his locker, but I didn’t expect it to be a penalty.
“If you put quality into the box you get chances like this and you earn things like the penalty we got. “It was a pressure moment and he showed real focus to be able to do it.
“I remember seeing it at the time, and I think it went to the keeper’s right, but I can’t be certain because when that happens it’s just bedlam.
“It’s sheer relief, and the first thing I did was turn to the fourth official to ask how long was left. He said it was two minutes and I thought wow, this could be the longest two minutes ever.
“To be fair our game management was brilliant and we kept it in their corner so well. I’d have taken the point, I don’t mind admitting that, but I’ll certainly take three.”
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