Manchester United defender Phil Jones has admitted the team had been “clumsy” with conceding soft goals recently — so it was important for them to keep a Premier League clean sheet against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
United held on to a 1-0 lead against Spurs at Old Trafford after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had struck in his first home goal for the club. Jose Mourinho’s team had previously tossed away 1-0 leads late on against Stoke, Arsenal and Everton this season, with all three matches ending 1-1.
Jones said: “It was in the back of my mind at 1-0, with 10 minutes to go, that you don’t want to drop points again. We were trying to make sure everyone was in the right position, we were concentrating and not switching off. From front to back, we defending terrifically well.
“It was probably best to have ground a result out like that because we have been creating lots of chances but been clumsy in terms of letting soft goals in. It was important to to keep a clean sheet.”
The victory helped United claw their way back into contention in the race for a top-four finish, moving within three points of their beaten opponents Tottenham. With Liverpool and Manchester City also dropping points over the weekend, the table is far more promising for Mourinho’s side than it was before the Tottenham game.
Jones said: “We knew it was a big game. We said Spurs would be nine points above us if we lost so it was huge. I thought we played well. We got the first goal and settled into the game nicely. We dug in deep and were resilient and showed a real desire to defend.”
Looking forward to Wednesday night’s game for United at Selhurst Park, he added: “Palace won’t be easy. It is tough there. We have to play as well as we have done today and defend as well. We need to kick on.”
The England defender has been impressive since returning after eight months out injured, having been thrown into the side ahead of schedule against Swansea City on Nov. 6. Since his comeback, he has started in seven out of eight matches for United — rested only for the Europa League win away against Zorya Luhansk.
During those seven games, United have only conceded five goals, with Jones forming an unlikely strong partnership in central defence with Marcos Rojo, answering the doubters.
Jones said: “There is criticism and praise all the time. One minute you can be the blue-eyed boy and the next match you can be slated. That’s just the way it is.
“People have different opinions. They are entitled to that and, as professionals, we get on with it and forget about it and concentrate on what we do on the pitch.
“I have always said that, if I get a run of games and stay fit, I know what I am capable of. I am not a player who goes on mazy runs, I like to defend. I like to do a job for the team.
“I am still learning. I am 24 and am not getting any younger and the whole tag of being a young player is no longer with me any more. I need to kick on and [keep] putting in performances like I have been and improve.
“I need to kick on in terms of playing more games. I have missed a lot over the last couple of years. I love playing football so I want to play as many as I can.”
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