Under-23s manager Russ Wilcox provided his reaction to iFollow Iron after taking the team in the absence of first team manager Neil Cox and assistant manager Mark Lillis for Tuesday night's narrow 1-0 loss at high-flying Cheltenham Town.

The management duo missed the match due to Mark awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. Because he's come into close contact with Mark, and although he is showing no symptoms, Neil will also have to self-isolate as we follow Public Health England and EFL guidelines and protocols.

Reuben Reid's early penalty settled the match at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, although United put in a much improved performance to Saturday's 5-0 loss at home to Cambridge United.

"It's been a very difficult few days, as everybody knows now. Fingers crossed, Mark Lillis will be fine - that's the bigger picture. It's so important that his health comes first, and then obviously the manager has to self-isolate because he's been in close contact with Mark," Wilcox said.

"We didn't find out until around 10am on Monday morning, so credit to all of the staff members because we've all worked together well in preparation for the game tonight.

"We were looking at doing some shape on the team and couldn't do that yesterday morning for obvious reasons because we weren't quite sure if any of the players were going to go down (with COVID-19).

"We didn't want to name the team because all of a sudden this morning you might get two or three more. We wanted to keep the group together and make sure they're all nice and positive not knowing the team, then we've literally had to throw it together on a tactics board coming away to one of the top teams in the league.

"We've got to give the lads a lot of credit tonight for their spirit, togetherness and work ethic. Yes, we were lacking a little bit of quality and we know that. It's a young group and people have to give us time. The manager has to have time to develop his own squad and to improve these young players.

"The young lads (George Hornshaw and Mason O'Malley) who played wing-back tonight were in my group last year and have played a number of games already this season. They're developing well.

"You look at the Cheltenham team tonight and it's full of experience and quality, and been together for 18 months to two years. They're managed by Michael Duff who I know really well from my days at Burnley. He's a great guy and doing a terrific job.

"To go 1-0 down after three minutes, I'm sure a few back at home were thinking it could be a long night but the lads dug in, grew into the game and in the end I think we deserved something because the penalty for me is not a penalty. It was a blatant shove on Rory who was dragged to the ground. You don't want to keep blaming referees, but you shouldn't be looking at the ball coming in. You should be looking at bodies in the box and certainly around the goal area. We're disappointed with that and ultimately it's cost us a point.

"After that, it's a tough one, but for me it's a modern day penalty where players are clever and they feel a little bit of contact (so take advantage of that). It's not cheating for me and hopefully George (Hornshaw) will learn from that. He should have got away with it because it was a blatant foul on Rory (Watson) beforehand and it shouldn't have come down to that decision, but it did.

"Again, the younger players have to learn quickly that when someone's in the box you have to make sure you force them away, keep them out of the box and then defend the cross when it comes in.

"I can't criticise the players' attitude and application, as it was very good.

"It took us 15-20 minutes to grow into the game, and we changed a couple of tactical bits, mainly just condensing space as their midfield players had too much of the ball in the early part of the game and their back three was splitting and causing our front two massive problems, but we dealt with it, grew into the game and in the end were a little bit unlucky not to nick a point.

"We've improved on contact in both boxes, and have all worked on that. They had ten corners tonight and their delivery is fantastic from both sides, but we made first contact on nine out of ten corners and looked solid. That's a big thing moving forward, because if you can't defend set-plays in League Two you have big issues as everyone overloads the box and puts it in.

"It's a good starting point after Saturday. We all have to raise the bar. We've only played seven games and have 39 left. Five out of the six have been against teams in the top six, and we have Exeter and Salford coming up so it doesn't get easier, but I think tonight hopefully gives us a fresh start."

See much more from Russ Wilcox on iFollow Iron.

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