How would you sum that up?
It was an incredible performance and I am really, really proud of the players. The last thing I said to them before the game was ‘can you walk off the pitch with your shoulders back, proud of yourselves?’ because we couldn’t guarantee the result and sometimes you can sort of jog around, not really get near anyone, you ask for someone’s shirt at the end and the game passes you by. We said to them ‘can you make a mark on the game in a positive way?’ Pep and his team will know they’ve been in a half decent football match today. They all came off very proud of themselves and I was as well.
You were in the lead for 22 minutes and caused them some real problems during the game, just how proud are you of your players?
It was an amazing performance. We could have been 1-0 down after 17 seconds and you are thinking ‘this could be a long, long day’. There would have been nervousness and a bit of anxiety as they can stick seven, eight or nine on teams and they’ve done that to better teams than us. That fear drives you on too. The unity within the group and the performance. We had to pick and choose our moments to attack, of course, but even in the first half at 0-0 we had a couple of moments and if something had dropped for us…that was the message at half-time, to go and get that goal. But look at the subs they brought on. They do that to teams in the last 10 minutes. I don’t think the lads deserved the third goal, but 80 odd minutes gone and still 1-0 up. If there was a crowd here, would they have got the players through? Ultimately we have lost to probably the best team in the world right now and the lads have given an incredible account of themselves.
You’ve just had a chat with Pep, what did he say?
It was a couple of things: a bit about the game and he said I should be very proud and I have a hard team, with good structure and he mentioned the togetherness we had. I then picked his brain about a couple of other things. They are gold dust moments that don’t come along very often. I tried to tap into him what I could and I gave him a bottle of wine as well, which I thought was the least I could do. It wasn’t the normal bottle of red wine I buy!
Do you feel like uncorking a bottle yourself tonight?
I am absolutely exhausted and feel like going to bed. I’m sure I’ll have a beer and go back to the family who were all watching at home, which is a shame. It’s emotionally draining, the build-up and the performance. I think we’ve all earned a drink.
How much belief can you take from this performance into the league campaign now as you try to go on and win promotion?
After the game, there is a tinge of disappointment bizarrely, but I said to the lads, you are going to get unbelievable attention now, so enjoy it because it doesn’t come around very often. All the social media platforms and press, enjoy the moments, rightly so but turn up Monday morning ready to go to work because we have Oldham at home. They have shown what they can do as a group. That’s the message. We had 37 points after 23 games last season and we have the same record now. We have to kick on. It’s been a nice, welcome break from the league, but we have to harness it and use it as a motivation to go on.
How pleased are you with the way the club has handled the magnitude of this occasion?
There are lots of people here who aren’t usually here and they’ll all walk away and think it’s been well handled…the pitch was good, the performance, my phone is going mental with messages from all sorts of people in and out of football. I would imagine people are saying nice things about the football club and maybe we’ve stepped out of the shadow of the racecourse for five minutes.
Did you allow yourself to dream when you went 1-0 up?
You do and you are absorbed in the game, trying to help the lads because they are running from memory. You are trying to get them to their starting positions. We’ve been undone by class ultimately, in terms of the finishes. You do think you have a chance, 1-0 up as the scoreboard turns to 80, I’d be lying if I didn’t think we had a chance.
How pleased were you with the goal from Alfie May after the long throw?
We had to pick and choose our moments to attack. The last two minutes when you try to go toe to toe with them, we didn’t see the ball. We had to work on certain things and the throw-in is a strength of ours. It is dangerous and hard to defend, even when you know about it. It’s like Man City, you know what all the patterns are, but stopping it is another thing. I am really pleased for everyone involved.
What’s it like as a manager when a plan like that is working, for so long?
Getting them in at 0-0 was massive because the players started to believe then. In the warm-up the players were really quiet and you are a little bit worried, looking a bit like rabbits in headlight and you saw the start we had with them nearly scoring inside 17 seconds. But we grew into it, started to believe in each other and the plan we had. We changed formation and went to a 5-4-1 to try and block it up and make it as hard as we could for them. It’s hard to break down. They are the best players in the world, but if you are organised, you give yourselves a chance. They opened us at times, but it was really pleasing to watch.
How much do you think this has helped the club in terms of finances?
It’s been huge. We are living in a pandemic and there is no money coming in. We are a small League Two club. Not only the finances, having the best players in the world coming to the town, raising the profile of the club, giving a good account of ourselves. Our groundsman works his socks off and he’s just had world class players on his pitch, which will make him proud. The board put a lot of work in and they are the only people allowed here, but they’ll have enjoyed the day. The players get the attention and quite rightly so, for the next 24 hours or so. It’s a pleasing day. Ultimately, I don’t know the exact figures, but the club will be here next year, probably because of this cup run.