Smalling points to team spirit

Sec­ond-half re­vival sees Rash­ford score stop­page-time win­ner

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - Ben Fisher at the Vi­tal­ity Sta­dium

Chris Smalling has ac­knowl­edged Manch­ester United must start mak­ing quicker starts to games, but the de­fender be­lieves their lat­est last-gasp win pro­vides fur­ther ev­i­dence of a team spirit rem­i­nis­cent of the Alex Fer­gu­son era.

Mar­cus Rash­ford’s stop­page-time win­ner at Bournemouth on Satur­day earned a third Premier League vic­tory in four matches, and pro­vides a lift be­fore this week’s match at Ju­ven­tus and the Manch­ester derby on Sun­day.

Smalling de­scribed it as a piv­otal pe­riod for United, and in­sists the value of vic­tory in up­com­ing matches is price­less.

“I think that it would gal­vanise us. We know we’re go­ing into a very tough week now, but we can come out with some good re­sults and it can be seen as a good month.

Tough month

It is an es­pe­cially tough month now, and po­ten­tially af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break when we have a lot of home games it’s all about mak­ing sure we get re­sults and move up that ta­ble.”

José Mour­inho was livid with his side’s “dis­as­trous” first-half per­for­mance, and Smalling – who de­scribed that 45 min­utes as their worst this sea­son – has urged United to elim­i­nate any slop­pi­ness in Turin on Wed­nes­day or risk be­ing pun­ished by the Serie A lead­ers.

“In the last few years I think we have been known for shut­ting up shop and not con­ced­ing many goals, so this sea­son has been very un­usual,” said Smalling. “We need to work on that.”

Paulo Dy­bala scored the only goal of the game as Ju­ven­tus out­classed United at Old Traf­ford last month, but Smalling in­sists he and his team­mates will ar­rive buoyed af­ter record­ing an­other late win.

“I think we will be more on the front foot and you will see a bet­ter per­for­mance in the first half.

“We need to take the sec­ond-half per­for­mance that we had against them at home and we need to do that from the off and we’ll give them a good game and get chances.”

Rash­ford and Alexis Sánchez, against New­cas­tle United, have both scored stop­page-time win­ners in re­cent weeks, which has also led to com­par­isons with Fer­gu­son’s reign.

‘Never giv­ing in’

Asked if such come­backs re­minded him of play­ing for the Scot, who signed Smalling from Ful­ham in 2010, he said: “Yes, we’re show­ing that at­ti­tude, never giv­ing in. No mat­ter how bad the first half was, the sec­ond half we all be­lieved we could go and win. It’s a great feel­ing, and it’s bring­ing us closer to­gether.

“As games are get­ting tougher and tougher – I think they’re closer than ever – it is of­ten com­ing down to fine mar­gins.

“Who can give that added burst in the last five min­utes? We’re go­ing to win a lot of points that way.”

Smalling recog­nises that United’s in­dif­fer­ent start has left them with an up­hill task in or­der to at­tain a top-four fin­ish, but he knows any crit­i­cism comes with the ter­ri­tory.

Spot­light

“We as play­ers have to stand tall and the spot­light will be on us be­cause we are sup­posed to be in the top four.

“To be at a club like this, and last as long as I have, you need to have that courage and be­lief in your abil­ity, be­cause you’re not go­ing to have good days ev­ery week and the bad days are of­ten high­lighted when you’re at a big club, but I be­lieve in my­self.

“As play­ers you need to have thick skin, and we need to have be­lief that you will have bad days but it’s about mak­ing sure you have more good days than bad.”

– Guardian

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