The first leg of the League Two play-off semi-final between Bradford and United was an excellent watch on Sunday night, with both teams going for it from the moment the first whistle was blown.
And manager Paul Simpson agreed that there was plenty to take from it, despite the narrow defeat, as he now switched focus to the home stage of the tie at the weekend.
“I’m massively proud of what we’ve just shown out there,” he said shortly after full-time. “I thought we were a little bit nervous at the start of the game, I accept that, but after we’d conceded the goal I thought we properly took a grip of it.
“We created some fantastic chances, and unfortunately over the last month or two it’s been the same story, we’ve talked about not finishing those chances.
“I don’t know how many we’ve had, but there must have been four, five, maybe even six really good chances. That has to improve.”
On the overall display, which saw the Blues push their opponents every step of the way, he added: “I thought the energy and the personality we showed was fantastic.
“That was the starters, that was the finishers that came on, they made an impact, and that’s given us real belief to take into the next game on Saturday.
“I thought we put some really good crosses in, with Jack Armer and Taylor Charters, and we got into so many good positions. It’s just getting that final little bit right. It’s getting that final finish on it. We didn’t quite find that in this game.
“I think of Ryan Edmondson’s header, and it looks like he’s stretching, so I don’t know whether that’s as good a chance as it seemed. Kristian Dennis, I thought the keeper did really well because he stood up longer and I think Denno wanted to dink it, so him standing up gave us a problem.
“We’ve had some good chances and I think we’ve shown that we can compete against these. We’ve shown that we can handle the occasion, after that early little bit of nervousness, and it’s given us plenty of positives to take from it.”
And it was an occasion which the players seemed to thrive on as they continually upped their game.
“Yes, without a doubt, I thought we had real energy about us,” he agreed. “I know we’ve got fit players in there and the lads who come off the bench have energy as well.
“Bradford were hanging on in the end, I know they kept going for it a little bit as well, but we were pushing and we just weren’t able to find that little bit of quality in the final third to go and finish things off properly.
“Their goal was obviously disappointing. We won the first header, if I remember rightly it might have been Callum, and the next header has come back quickly and it puts the lad in.
“Maybe we should have cleared it when Jack Armer came across, but we were a little bit on our heels. The lad stuck it away really well. They had a couple of other half chances, but overall I think we created the better chances and I think we dealt with the game really well.
“They’ll be delighted at winning 1-0 because we did have some really good chances and it’s certainly made things interesting for the second leg.”
The second 45 minutes in particular showed an away team that is more than up for the fight.
“When we got them into the dressing room we told them that we needed to take more care with the ball because we were a little bit sloppy in that first half,” he said. “We wanted them to move the ball a little bit quicker and be prepared to run in behind.
“That’s the area where you can cause problems and, to be fair, I thought we did cause them problems without actually working the keeper as much as we would have wanted to.
“I have no idea how we haven’t scored from some of those set plays, I think I actually jumped up for two or three of them, because I thought they were going in. We’re a threat when we get that delivery right and we show the desire to go and get on the end of them.
“When we get people running in behind, we’ve shown again that we can be a threat. We have to do it all again on Saturday but we have to be even more of a threat and we know we need to be finishing things off. The task is clear, we have to win because Bradford have that advantage at the moment.”
Into the starting line-up for the game were Joe Garner and Joe Senior, who were charged with helping to add zip and fight to the performance.
“We get that from every player, but I felt a bit sorry for Joe Garner,” he told us. “I thought it was incredible because five times he was smashed off the ball, and I just hope the referee is a homer when we play the second leg on Saturday.
“I thought that’s what the ref was in this game. I don’t think that’s the reason we lost the game, but there were so many decisions that he’s given in their favour when he hasn’t given us anything.
“That’s really frustrating because I think this guy is a good referee. On today’s performance I thought he was good for the home team, but not for us.”
The final whistle was followed by a huddle right in front of the 2,415 travelling fans.
“I got everyone together to say that we’ve shown we can compete and that we’ve got enough to do this,” he revealed. “The only thing missing is the finish, and we have to get back to finishing our chances off next week. If we do that we can certainly win this tie.
“The fact is we played some really good football and we showed good composure as well. We stretched them, we got into wide areas, and we got some good balls in, particularly from the left hand side.
“We needed a bit better quality from the right, but we’ve had some good controlled possession against a really good Bradford side. Let’s not underestimate them, they’re a good side with good players.
“This game has been a fantastic advert for League Two football. I thought the whole crowd were magnificent. The atmosphere the Bradford fans created before the game was excellent, and the noise that was made during the game when they scored was really good.
“Fair play to our fans, the came in their numbers and they backed us. They made an incredible noise for us and I’m really looking forward to seeing them come out again in numbers next weekend.”