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INTERVIEW: It was a game of two halves

Gav Skelton with his thoughts on the Newcastle friendly

23 July 2023

Club News

INTERVIEW: It was a game of two halves

Gav Skelton with his thoughts on the Newcastle friendly

23 July 2023

United were given another test in wintry conditions at the Gateshead International Arena on Saturday afternoon as they come up against a stubborn and energetic Newcastle United U21 side.

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A strong first half display from the Blues could and probably should have brought more goals, but things were much tighter after the break.

“I thought the first half was excellent, there was some really good stuff from us,” assistant manager Gav Skelton said. “It was exactly what we worked on in training and it’s always pleasing to see it when that happens.

“In the second half, sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition as well. I thought they really upped their energy levels and they caused us problems.

“From our side we probably weren’t doing the things that we did really well before the break, and that’s why it made it a bit more difficult.

“It was pleasing to get more of the lads 90 minutes, we planned to do that, and we’ll be looking to do the opposite on Tuesday. The lads that didn’t play here will get 90 at Chorley.”

“It’s about getting the minutes in the tank, but it’s also about developing good habits as well,” he continued. “We’re only two weeks away from the season starting so it’s important they all get used to it.

“I thought in the first 45 minutes we showed some of the good habits we do have, and it’s what we had success with last year. We stopped doing as much of it in the second half, and our second goal actually comes from playing the ball in behind and getting runs forward.

“We perhaps didn’t do the running and things that go with that for the first 35 minutes of the second half. That was frustrating for us, but the good thing is, like I say, that the players need 90 minutes and there’s a few that will now benefit from that.”

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The start from the Blues saw them play much of the first period in the final third.

“We’ve had an excellent week up in Scotland, we came here and won the game 2-0, and we saw some excellent performances at the start of the game,” he told us. “We were quite comfortable in the first half for spells and it can be difficult to pick that up again after half time.

“I thought we should have been three or four goals up, with no disrespect to Newcastle, and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, or what game it is, if you don’t score those goals it can suddenly be very competitive.

“I think they got a lift for the second half because there was only the one goal. In terms of it all, it was a really good workout. We’ve seen positive stuff, which you want, and other stuff which means you don’t get carried away. It reinforces what you need to be working at.”

“From the two games we’ve had this week, it’s been good for us,” he continued. “Livingston was a really physical game, which you’d expect from them.

“Newcastle, I’m sure the ball in-play timings would have been a lot more, with the multi-ball system they’re going to have this year and the way U21s and U23 teams play. You get really good physical exercise from it.

“It was more technical, but that’s what you want. You want different types of test, it keeps the freshness. Friendlies can be difficult, but I thought the pitch, with it being wet, brought a tempo to it.

“There was a decent tempo and it’ll be interesting to see how far they’ve run, which is important. We ideally wanted to give everyone 90 minutes but we had to look after a couple, that was the whole point of the exercise.

“In terms of what you get from it, if it had been exactly the same both halves you’d either be really disappointed or really excited, but this is exactly what you want, take confidence from it and realise there’s still plenty of stuff to work on.”

Explaining more on who got 90 minutes, and why, he told us: “It’s all on what we’ve looked at and worked on in training. With different patterns and shapes of play you want to use you need different players.

“It was always the plan to rotate it between this game and next Tuesday because it’s important that everybody gets used to 90 minutes again. Those who weren’t involved today will be frustrated, you always want to play, but they’ll be involved against Chorley.

“We saw after the break today, the tempo wasn’t quite there. That was probably down to getting the legs going after half time, probably feeling they were quite comfortable and should have been three or four up.

“So credit to Newcastle, they upped their energy levels and caused us problems, and at times we struggled to get our game going because of it.

“But they never had loads of chances and to be fair their keeper has made two or three excellent saves. You give them credit and we have to look at why we didn’t play as well.

“For us, Tomas made a couple of good saves and his kicking was excellent first half, so we had a good platform. There were a couple of miskicks after the break, small margins, and it brings problems to yourselves. It’s sticking to that consistency in the good things you do that matters.”

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