Last night’s 1-0 victory over Notts County, thanks to Medy Elito’s first half strike, gives Joe Dunne nine points from his first available nine, and the U’s their third victory in the same number of games. It speaks volumes that it took Shaun Derry’s last 13 games to win the same number of games, and the last time the U’s managed three wins on the bounce was December 2016. United look motivated and reinvigorated, free of metaphorical shackles, playing with a bounce and a verve that has been missing since the high points of Derry’s reign.
It helps when you have a striker currently in the form of his career. Uche Ikpeazu now plays with a maturity that wasn’t so apparent when he first rocked up in CB5; he’s added guile and reliability to his game, developing into much much more than just ‘a handful’ for defenders. His finish on Saturday against Grimsby showed that – he read the flick on, controlled well and found the bottom corner with a powerful strike. Last night he chased and he harried, he brought wide players into the game, powered past defenders, put dangerous crosses and shots in, and his movement consistently caused their defence problems all evening. Essentially, he did everything but put the ball in the net. He is the danger man: for the opposition, the question now is ‘how do we stop Uche?’
Notts County couldn’t answer it, and in truth the score line flattered the visitors. They did not look like the promotion-chasing side in the midst of a play-off hunt, chasing every point or advantage they can find. They looked more like what some of the statistics said, only one away win in twelve, and in Ameobi and Stead a strike force with a 35-year-old average age. Those two might’ve been decent on Football Manager 2004, but let’s live in the real world, Kev. Last night they had no shots on target, and only three attempts throughout the whole game compared to United’s 19.
Cambridge controlled the first-half, Taft and Taylor at centre-half doing the basics well, with Jevani, Waters and Halliday providing flashes of intent. Deegan, who has looked a different player in the past two outings under Dunne, anchored the midfield, while O’Neil was given a slightly more liberating role, often finding himself contributing heavily to attacks. The first real chance came when Elito’s shot from the edge of the area span up in the air and down onto O’Neil’s head, who found himself right in front of Notts’ goalkeeper Adam Collin, but his instinctive header ended straight in the keeper’s arms. The goal came shortly after; again, Uche driving forward, finding Jevani on the edge of the area, and his deflected shot was taken past the keeper by Elito, whose run off the left was completely unspotted.
The second half was similarly dominant for the U’s, with minimal County pressure resulting in a few opportunities on the counter, O’Neil again finding himself unmarked in the box, but this time his header from Uche’s cross flew straight over the bar. United’s dominance should have led to a second goal, but they saw their one goal lead out with no problems, in an admirably resolute manner for a team that two weeks ago was being tentatively spoken about as possible relegation candidates.
For Joe Dunne this period is an extended job interview. It looks likely that he will continue as caretaker until the end of the season while possible replacements are identified, but if United can come out of the next five games with a decent points haul, he’ll have made himself prime candidate for a permanent role. Accrington, Luton, Wycombe, Swindon, Carlisle – the job interview from hell. But you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and so far Dunne is doing just that. Notts County last night was the most winnable fixture of this difficult patch, and they were dispatched with ease, but playing three of the form teams in the league next will bring with it obvious challenges.
The post-match comments from some players showed a clear belief in Dunne, that his to-the-point mannerisms have motivated a beleaguered squad to a stage where there are now serious talks about play-off ambitions. League Two is ridiculous, three wins can turn the whole league upside down. For now, that Irish lad with the fine-trimmed beard on the sidelines has done everything he can; revived the fans and stirred the players.
Maybe the bobble hat has something to do with it?