United battled their way to victory with a gritty display on Saturday afternoon, and there were also moments of quality and composure along the way that made it a deserved three points.
In a typically honest post-match interview manager Paul Simpson confirmed his delight at the result, but also highlighted areas to be worked on as he continues to look for improvement.
“The biggest thing I’ll take out of the day is that it was a massive test of character,” he said. “We had grit but it wasn’t, in my opinion, how I wanted it to be.
“I didn’t think we passed the ball well enough and we didn’t control it for long enough periods. I know you look at the statistics from Tuesday night, where Mansfield dominated the ball, but I thought we played so much better then than we did today.
“I’ve got to say that my final message to the players in our team meeting on Saturday morning was that they had to find a way to win. That was what it needed to be because we talked about the fact that three points was going to make it a really good week for us.
“Yes, people will complain that we should have got all three at Mansfield, but we didn’t, and if you can win at home and draw away, however that happens, then it breeds confidence and belief and you tend to be able to push on.
“The way the game went it became a bit of a scrap, and it was magnificent the way they saw it through for us. It was like the good old days with the way it went, the rucks and niggles, and we showed we can do it.”
As the game started to develop that feisty edge, he spoke once again about how important it is to be able to show different sides to your game.
“You have to be prepared to stand up to it, it’s as simple as that,” he insisted. “There are very few football games, especially at League Two level, but probably at all levels, where you don’t have to scrap and fight.
“You’ve got to want to work hard, and that’s the base. If you can get your football going around that then it could be a good game for you. We didn’t get our football going enough, even though we did create the better of the opportunities, and we didn’t keep the ball or pass it enough.
“Callum’s goal was a brilliant strike with his left foot, but that was the first time we’d shown a bit of composure. We kept the ball, we moved it around and look what happens, you get a reward for it.
“The second goal was a great ball in from the left, Jack Armer got a flick, and Kris Dennis then goes and knocks another one in.
“I’m really pleased with the result, but I’ve talked to them about the fact that they need to have more discipline in terms of playing from our shape, and we also have to take more care of the ball if we want to play the kind of football we keep talking about.
“I’m happy with the three points, but I felt I had to make those important points to them. The other thing for me was the way we needed more discipline towards the end, after we got our second goal.
“You don’t need to get a third goal at 2-1 up that late in the game. If the game is really open you can, but they’d just brought a big striker on, with a big midfielder, and they were always going to try to hit them.
“They had Maghoma in midfield who was playing really well and causing problems, and Assal who was running off the big men. They were bombing things at us at every opportunity, so sometimes you just have to defend.
“If you concentrate on that, stay calm, and when you win the ball keep it. There were too many times when we didn’t do that, and I know I’m sounding really negative here, but I am delighted with the win.
“I just want us to be better and I want us to improve all the time. If we tighten up we can be a match for most teams.”
Scoring almost bang on 45 minutes felt somehow the right outcome from a first half in which the Blues were largely on top.
“Possibly, yes, because we did have a couple of half chances, but probably not as clear cut as Tuesday’s chances,” he commented. “There were so many moments in the game where if we’d had a half decent referee we might have got a decision that went our way.
“Penalties, free kicks, and at the end there were four drop balls where I think we had possession for at least two of them. And there was one where he actually bounced the ball for their defender to hit it on the half volley up to the 6’ 9” centre forward, and it makes you wonder what goes through their minds.
“There are penalty decisions they don’t give and holding like you’ve never seen before on set plays and corners. He speaks to them but lets them get away with it the next time.
“Why don’t they allow the corner to come in and just give a penalty instead of pussyfooting around and being soft about it. It baffles me, it really does.
“I’ve got to say that in the end, because of the onslaught that came, I am absolutely delighted with three points. I thought the crowd were excellent as well.
“When there were a few rucks going on it lit the fire for the fans as well, it got them going, and boy do we need them. We need the supporters behind us and I thought they created a real atmosphere that helped the players to continue working.”
We couldn’t let it pass without a comment on what could have been a huge moment, when a penalty for a clear handball wasn’t given.
“They’re massive, huge decisions,” he agreed. “What I find really hard to believe is that I’m stood next to the fourth official who has a microphone linked up to the referee, and I can hear him advising the referee that that’s a foul, free kick for blue, or whatever it might be.
“We’re all quite a distance away from the handball, so we can’t say that it was a penalty, but people are saying that it was a definite punch. I can’t say, I haven’t seen it back, but I wonder why you have four officials when the referee has carte blanche to do whatever he wants. That’s certainly what he’s done in this game.
“And I thought the tackle from Harry Pell was lucky to be only yellow. In the last two games we’ve had two horrendous tackles. I thought the tackle on Jordan Gibson on Tuesday on the far side from us was a really bad tackle.
“I thought that was a bad one on Mox as well. That handball, I go off players’ reactions. Every single one of our players in that vicinity are going to him appealing about it. I don’t know what officials see.”
The Wimbledon equaliser was a moment from nowhere, with the direct route to goal a disappointing one to see.
“There were a few things with that,” the gaffer said. “On Tuesday night we were absolutely magnificent defensively, but on that one occasion in this game it was one long ball down the middle, Hunts goes for it, possibly a little bit too late, but if one is going up then the other two have to cover round.
“Nobody did that job of covering, the lad skipped through with a really good finish, but that shouldn’t happen. Then at the end we were winning the game 2-1 and we’re going two against two at the back. There’s no sense to it.
“You’ve just got to defend properly and I think if we can improve in those areas we can be a match for any team in this league. I’m looking forward to the day where I’m sitting comfortably in that technical area, because it does nothing for blood pressure or for my heart the way it is at the moment. Hopefully that’ll come soon.”
With a final word on a visiting side that certainly didn’t make things easy, he said: “They’ll come good at some point, because they have some really good players.
“I thought they played some good football and we had to change our shape a couple of times, because they were playing out far too easily. We still went a little bit too deep after the change, we were far too negative, so we changed again with more of a 4-3-3.
“That was just to try to get ourselves more into the game. It wasn’t a win at all costs game, but I wanted the three points.
“Wimbledon Football Club has obviously had a really tough time and I was looking yesterday to see their record – I think they went 27 games at the end of last season without a win, and they’ve had three out of ten this season.
“If I’ve read it right, that’s three wins from 37 games. That’s a rut, but I do think they’ll get out of it. Johnnie Jackson is a good manager and they have good individual players.
“I had to help our players find a way and I felt the eleven out there could see it through, with a couple of changes along the way. That’s why there were no subs.
“I knew Kris Dennis was running himself into the ground, but just felt he could get us free-kicks, he might win some things in that final third, and he also has the potential to score. Jordan Gibson is capable of doing some little bit of magic, Omari I thought was better today, and looked a bit more like himself as he’s getting fitter and fitter.
“The two midfielders were doing ok so I would have been changing just for the sake of it. That’s not me being disrespectful to the lads on the bench, it was just the way I felt about it. It was a different kind of performance where they’ve had to roll up their sleeves and dig in, and scrap for everything.
“Challenging, covering, running back, sticking together, emergency defending, those for me are the sort of things that breed team spirit, and especially when you come out with a victory with it.”
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