This time last week there was a danger that the bottom could have fallen out of our season. Without a win, or even a goal, in three league games, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse had that form continued into back-to-back home games. Two wins later, and the confidence that this is a team that can win promotion has returned.
There have been two important elements in our last two wins. The first has been the return of Lee Burge in goal – or perhaps, a lack of a goalkeeping error to have handed the opposition a lead to defend. The second has been, quite simply, the taking of chances at the other end of the pitch.
It’s still too early to say with confidence that our strong defensive record this season has been solely down to the players and manager and not, at least in part, been helped by playing some of the more toothless sides at this level thus far. However, if we can keep this up, it’s only going to take one moment of brilliance, or luck, to decide most games in our favour – which is what we saw against both Port Vale and Carlisle, where we didn’t particularly sustain an attacking threat, but took our chances when they came.
With Duckens Nazon having only suffered cramp against Carlisle on Tuesday, Mark Robins only really has to pick between Rod McDonald and Tom Davies in central defence. While Davies won man of the match on Tuesday night, his lack of mobility and composure on the ball still looked a weakness that could have led to mistakes against better opponents. There may be an argument for pairing Davies with McDonald, but that would be harsh on Jordan Willis who has been quietly solid this season, so I could see McDonald making an immediate return to the starting line-up.
Last Time We Met
It was one of the most scarring games of last season when we travelled to Cambridge United in the FA Cup. The initial bounce that had come with Mark Venus’ caretaker spell had died out, with the manager quickly entering the phase of random tactical and personnel changes that characterises a the final days of a managerial reign. Cambridge, and Luke Berry in particular, were there to punish that lack of continuity and confidence, running out comfortable 4-0 winners, despite being in the league below.
How Are They Doing?
Despite running out comfortable winners back in December, Cambridge endured a frustrating and inconsistent campaign under Shaun Derry. Although it’s early days still, this season has begun in a similar vein and if Derry continues to struggle to string together a run of results to get the U’s into the top seven, he could find himself out of a job before the end of the campaign.
Derry’s task this season has been made more difficult by the sale of, by far, the star player of last season, Luke Berry, to Luton Town. Berry scored an incredible 17 league goals from midfield last year, and leaves this Cambridge United side looking much less dynamic, even though there was a sense that Shaun Derry didn’t quite know the best position in which to use Berry.
However, the addition of ex-Carlisle United talisman Jabo Ibehre in attack means that Cambridge won’t be lacking in attacking threat. Ibehre has mainly had to content himself with a role as an impact sub, with the even bigger and stronger Uche Ikpeazu playing more of a central role as the focal point up front in the opening weeks of the season. However, since Berry’s departure in the final days of the transfer window, Shaun Derry has looked to partner the two powerful strikers together.
As for other attacking threats, winger Piero Mingoia is one of the better wide players at this level. An industrious player with good delivery and capable of chipping in with the odd goal, he could be someone to give either Jack Grimmer or Chris Stokes a bit of a headache. Attacking midfielder Jevani Brown has stepped up from non-league comfortably since signing this summer. Additionally, the rapid Harrison Dunk will be a threat from left-back.
Primarily though, Cambridge are a side that looks to keep clean sheets before nicking something at the other end – similar to us. Both as a player and now as a manager, Shaun Derry has a reputation for cynical play – time-wasting, niggly fouls, all the dark arts in the book – which can make his side incredibly tough to break down once they take the lead, however, it has led to frustrations from Cambridge fans that Derry is overly negative in the way he sets his teams up.
The battle of the midfield bastards – Gary Deegan and Michael Doyle – is going to be an interesting feature of the game. While in defence, Cambridge have one of the best right-backs in the division in Brad Halliday, along with two experienced centre-backs in Greg Taylor and Leon Legge, with the even more experienced David Forde in goal.
This is another game for us that is unlikely to be a spectacle of high-quality football. Both teams are fairly similar in their defensive focus and both are coming into this game off the back of wins in midweek. Unlike Port Vale and Carlisle, Cambridge will look to stifle the likes of Jodi Jones and Duckens Nazon, which is likely to make it even more difficult for us to create chances.
Unless there is a glaring error in either defence, this game has 0-0 written all over it.