Cambridge United U18S 1 -2 Gillingham U18s
The Cambridge United scholars began 2016 with a narrow and unfortunate 2-1 defeat at the hands of Gillingham in the Youth Alliance League at the weekend.
Gillingham have been in fine form over the past eight games, second only to runaway leaders Luton Town in the form table.
The game, played at The Baldock Arena on the artificial pitch didn’t start well as the Gills took the lead as early as the sixth minute, heading home unmarked, six yards from goal after an in-swinging corner.
The U’s equalised midway through the half, Harry Lea looping an audacious half volley from 25 yards over the visiting goalkeeper. However it was only two minutes later that they had regained the lead, capitalising on a goalkeeping error from on loan Southend United stopper James Macree.
Macree failed to hold or parry a 30 yard free kick and rebounded it to the on-coming forward to tap home and take an advantage into half time.
United started the second period superbly well, setting about their work with real urgency and endeavour. A host of attempts, crosses and set plays forced the keeper into numerous saves and the Gillingham back line into a number of defensive actions, but the U’s could not capitalise on their territorial dominance.
Both teams created chances from set plays, Gillingham heading wide from a corner on one occasion, whilst Harry Darling may be thinking he should have equalised twice from excellent Josh Emmins’ deliveries.
United pressed hard for the equaliser and could not be accused of a lack of commitment in search of one. The intensity of periods in the first half and certainly the second, will no doubt be pleasing for Professional Development Phase Lead Coach Mark Bonner as they search for consistency having now won two and lost two matches since Bonner returned to lead the team.
Bonner said of the game: “We are really frustrated to have lost a game that we have played so well in, dominated for large periods, and created enough chances to win. We can see some excellent stats in terms of possession, territory, entries into the final third and crosses as well as attempts at goal. However, we need to have greater quality in our attacks to ensure the most important stat gives us a better chance of winning.
“That said, the discussion point at full time was a reminder that it is often not the quality that you play with, or how long you control the ball that matters. Being good when it really matters is the key element. Managing momentum, understanding when and how to play under pressure, defending set plays, limiting opportunities for your opponent when they are on top. These are the areas that will dictate the overall outcome, and we need to be better in so many of these moments.
“Our restarts weren’t good enough, our body language when we fell behind was poor, and our belief in ourselves to persist needs to improve. There was a good purpose about our play and the intensity in attack in the second half was very good. We are working hard to create a high pressure defensive strategy, and this worked well for large periods of the game.
“We have three remaining games before Merit League Two begins. The opening results of the season make it inevitable that we will finish the first half of the season in a poor position. Results haven’t been good enough. Now, we must prepare for that new challenge by continuing to bed in the principles that we want to pride ourselves on as a team over the next fortnight, and challenge ourselves against three good teams in Leyton Orient, Northampton Town and Southend United for the final weeks of this month.
“We have a small group of players to work with currently and we are continuing to search for ways to improve our recruitment, increase the size of our squad, and instil the values and winning mentality into the players to improve performance, results and ultimately, productivity.
“This weekend, I am urging the players to play with the real spirit of Cambridge United. The honesty, endeavour and commitment to the match, and the never say die attitude that is what wearing the shirt demands. It is in our DNA. When good players find that level and mentality, good things happen.”
Team: Macree, Davies, Darling, Jones, Emmins, Lea, Bell, Burniston, Knowles (Chambers-Shaw 72), Brown, Leavers. Not Used: Shaw