It was an afternoon where United had to dig deep on Saturday as they come up against a Rochdale side who threw everything at getting something out of what was a battle of a game.
Speaking after John-Kymani Gordon had scored his second goal in three outings to help the Blues to secure the points, manager Paul Simpson said: “I said before the game that we had to just be happy to grind it out and have a really disciplined performance.
“I thought in the first half when we picked up those three yellow cards with Morgan, Hunts and JK that it was actually going to be about keeping 11 players on the pitch.
“We showed much better composure in the second half and we had that discipline about us, but it wasn’t a pretty game of football in any way at all.
“I have to say that the pitch wasn’t of a type that was going to allow good football, but you have to come to places like this and you have to grind out results sometimes. Rochdale are fighting for their lives and we’ve done what’s needed to be done.”
That early goal from Gordon gave the away team something to scrap for.
“It’s massive, and what a great calm finish from him as well,” he agreed. “I’m really pleased with him because he’s a little bit uncomfortable with being slightly out of position. He finished his chance really well, he showed good composure and pace.
“He possibly could have had another in the first half when he dropped a shoulder but chose not to shoot. It really wasn’t a good game of football overall and I won’t even try to lie about that. But it is a brilliant result in front of an incredible away following.”
Although not a free-flowing display, it was one where Dale were restricted to few chances.
“We didn’t look troubled in the first half, to be fair, and we said to the lads at half time that if we could eliminate the mistakes we’d go on to win it,” he revealed. “It was about doing things properly and sticking to the basics well.
“I thought we did that, and there were a couple of occasions where we created things, but we didn’t quite get the right pass at the end of it.
“At the start of the second half we were in quite good positions and we didn’t make the best of them. It was about seeing it through and thankfully we did.
“Look, there’s a lot of work still to do, a lot of games still to go, and we have to keep building on the work that’s been done since June.
“This is what we’ve been building for, and I’ve always said that you do what you do in the early part of the season to help you enjoy this part of it, and the last dozen games. We’re getting closer to that now and we’re in a good position, so let’s see.”
A full-blooded display from the hosts almost made light of the relative league positions.
“No team ever lays down and tells you to take the three points away,” the gaffer commented. “These are scrapping for their lives and this is a tough surface to play on.
“It wasn’t a game for football, it was a game of no risk, pop it in behind and chase it down. That’s where the goal came from, Kris Dennis with a little neat lob over the top and that set JK on his toes.
“He got himself in behind and showed a really calm finish. It was a great reward for the way we started the game and we knew there were spells where we were going to have to hang in there.
“We defended for our lives and we showed some really good discipline, particularly in the second half. I wasn’t happy with some things in the first half but thankfully we came through that to get a big three points.
“The clean sheet gives you a chance, and I thought we worked hard to stop crosses and we kept two very pacy strikers quiet to start with.
“There was a different type of challenge that came when the two big lads came on, with Henderson working off Quigley. Sinclair came on and it was going out wide, it was proper gung-ho stuff.
“We put our tin hats on and it was even a different type of performance from Hunts and Mells, because they had to be aggressive and constantly covering each other.
“Normally Mells is a marauding outside centre back getting forward and causing problems, but in this one he had to be disciplined and he defended and stuck to his task really well.
“Thankfully Tomas has only had that one save to make, and he did it well. Along with that he was taking crosses well, and that’s what he’s there for.”
But there was a late scare at the end.
“Hunts is adamant that he was offside and all of our players were appealing,” he said. “I’d much rather we didn’t get ourselves into that position in the first place and I wasn’t happy with the way we gave the free kick away, and then the way we didn’t make first contact harder.
“We could have cleaned everything out when the ball was in the air for Tomas to contest, but he was caught in no man’s land, but the officials got the right call in the end.
“I’m thinking he’s got to be offside, but I can’t obviously see it. Then it’s a case of hands in pockets with every finger crossed hoping he makes the call for us.
“Apparently the liner on the far side was absolutely adamant he was offside but wanted to check who’d flicked it on. My thought was it was their player who flicked it on. They came to the right decision, and it helped.”
Following the Blues on the day were over 1,600 supporters, and they didn’t shut up from the first whistle.
“I said to the players at half time, get a picture in your head about what it could be like at the end if you see it through,” he told us. “That’s just fantastic to see.
“I was going to say that I’m not surprised, but they still do surprise us because they keep turning up and they made it a brilliant atmosphere for us.
“The noise in the first half was incredible, they stayed with the team and they could enjoy it at the end there when the players came to thank them for their support.
“When we grind out results like that they enjoy that. We had a good night here in 2006, when we virtually won the championship. Another good day today, and hopefully we keep pushing on.”