U’s begin Merit League 2 with away win
The U’s began Merit League 2 with a superb away victory in Swindon on Saturday having trailed midway through the first half.
An energetic start from the visitors was somewhat unexpected having travelled on the minibus for three and a half hours to arrive to a very wet and heavy pitch that would no doubt take its toll on the legs. But United came fast out of the traps, clearly intent on setting new standards and beginning the second league stage of the season with a positive performance, as well as points.
Some risky football from the hosts allowed the U’s to steal the ball from them on a number of occasions throughout the afternoon as some intelligent defensive pressing traps were in operation, together with real intent to regain possession for each other. But United also used possession well and came close on three occasions in the opening quarter of an hour with Swindon struggling to get out of their half.
Justin Leavers will be disappointed not to have taken his chance early in the game as a fine through pass presented him with an opportunity one versus one with the goalkeeper which was not struck at all cleanly. Likewise, Jordan Brown should have opened the scholars account on two occasions, once with the goal open after a mishap from the Town stopper, the other a rasping drive from an angle inside the penalty box which cleared the crossbar.
Against the run of play though, as so often happens, it was the hosts who took the lead, taking advantage of the United team leaving itself too open and allowing space to work their way through. The finish, a well hit half volley from just outside the 18 yard box was a good one, but United will have been disappointed to fall behind.
Not to be dispirited, United fought back and weathered a small storm as the hosts came into life. The U’s limited Town to little goal mouth action and equalised ten minutes before the break with a fantastic counter attacking goal. Tom Knowles received the ball in behind his full back from a well-timed, well weighted pass by Jake Chambers-Shaw, and wrapped an electric cross around the recovering back four. Jordan Brown made amends for his earlier spawned chances, finishing calmly at the back post across the goal keeper.
With the scores level at the break, United faced the prospect of defending against the wind and the slope in the second half, but started it in the same vein as the first. Leavers again ending an excellent move with a shot well blocked and then saved by the keeper in the first minute of play. United didn’t have to wait long though, Jordan Brown clinching his second and taking the lead for the first time in the afternoon just 60 seconds later.
Jake Chambers-Shaw took a clearance from the Swindon keeper down out of the sky calmly on his chest before attacking and unleashing a thunderous half volley off of his left foot from 30 yards in to the top corner.
The afternoon got even better for the visitors in the 60th minute when Brown slid in Fernando Bell-Toxtle who made a lung busting support run from midfield and then delivered a good cross for Tom Knowles, who swivelled and slammed home his finish from 12 yards.
The remaining half an hour saw the U’s counter attack well and may have extended the lead further. They did however limit the hosts to very few chances, goal keeper James Macree not having a save of note to make.
Mark Bonner said: “That was excellent. We could have become discouraged falling behind having started as well as we did, but we stuck to task and scored a fine equaliser. To go in at half time ‘in the game’ was so important and we should have led comfortably at the break.
“That said, the players showed a desire, togetherness and confidence to get on top again and the opening 15 minutes of the second half was great. Three well taken, well-crafted goals, an intelligent and tenacious defensive strategy, and a real energy and enthusiasm.
“When you travel long distances and have to contend with the elements, and the pitch, your attitude can take you one of two ways. I was delighted with our approach. It was the most mature they have been.
“Over the coming weeks, we will expose our second years to more adult football and under 21 football, and that will mean the under 18 team becomes younger. That’s a good opportunity for next year’s scholars to play in some more competitive games. Whatever team plays, we will try to win. We will try to win in a way that reflects the style we want to play with as a club.
“Most importantly, whichever team and whatever players wear the shirt, they need to understand what that means and what the game should look like. There is a responsibility that comes with it, and that is part of their education. We will continue to form this identity and rediscover it so that any Cambridge United team can be easily identifiable in their quality, commitment and conduct.”
Team; Macree, Davies (Shaw 60), Darling, Burniston, Emmins, Lea, Bell-Toxtle, Brown, Chambers-Shaw, Knowles (Foy 75), Leavers