Scout report: It’s Friday the 8th of March, and we’re in the middle of one of the ugliest leisure centre complexes in the county. Bored sixth form students loiter outside, chugging on thin, wispy roll-ups. Meanwhile, inside in the warm, surrounded by the distinctive odour of piri piri, this week’s most discussed story is reaching its much anticipated climax. The social media guy is probably the happiest. Calderwood, with his wallet out, is the least. The rest look pretty disinterested, except THE TAFT who has both thumbs up. David Forde looks confused at the lack of table service, almost as confused as everyone else at the fact he’s shown up for training. An interesting coincidence.
Yes, last week’s terrific and very unexpected away joy at Grimsby was, apparently, not down to a more organised defence and the return to the starting line-up of some solid full backs, but the promise of a free Nandos, and Friday saw the squad cash in that prize. However, would the free food inspire another victory or would United’s good home form fall afowl? Had Calderwood hatched a plan to beast Paul Scholes’ Oldham Athletic, or was he going to wing it?
Ten minutes in and it looked like Harrison Dunk was still feeling spiffy from one-to-many extra hot wings. A Gevaro Nepomuceno corner got hung up in the wind, Harrison, under no pressure, got his shape wrong and found his attempt flicked header flying backwards to nestle tidy in the side of Mitov’s net. It seemed to all happen in slow motion and for the second time in four games, the U’s have opened the scoring for on their opponents’ behalf.
This had come after a fairly bright opening ten for United and, annoyingly, it didn’t inspire a reaction, with the U’s producing a slumped, inept and disappointing remainder of the half. Action-wise there was little else of note produced in the first half; Nepomuceno had a half chance for the Latics, curling one just wide. United’s best two openings fell to Reggie Lambe (more on him later), one being blocked and one being well held by Oldham’s keeper, Daniel Iverson. It was down to The Taft, and his two clearances over the Main Stand in quick succession to bring the biggest cheer of the half from U’s fans. After a 45 minutes to forget, Oldham had found themselves ahead without having to do much.
A half-time bollocking and a quick reaction was needed to salvage the afternoon. The reaction was delivered aplomb by Jevani Brown within the opening sixty seconds of the half. An excellent up-field clearance from Dimi Mitov, coupled with clever play by Jabo, led to Brown finding himself in space inside the Oldham half. A shift of gear saw Brown accelerate ahead of the Latics defence and a cool, low finish through Iverson saw United back in the game.
However, the U’s weren’t able to craft their possession into any clear or obvious chances and Iverson remained untested. The excitement had died down by the time Amoo was replaced by Hayden Coulson, who was introduced on the right hand side of midfield, raising eyebrows considering he’s a left sided player and Reggie Lambe hadn’t offered a lot to the party in Coulson’s obvious position. But it was Coulson’s introduction that seemed to reignite a blunted United front line, with his pace and energy causing Oldham problems. Young Hayden was able to find space that Amoo hadn’t, and even though he spurned the best chance of the half when put through on goal, he definitely played himself into contention for a start on Tuesday.
The pairing of Coulson and Dunk on the left side seems like something we’ll see again before the season is out. The spot on the left side of midfield is currently in the possession of Reggie Lambe, but it was another unsure day at the office for the Bermudan. He found good positions when drifting central, but again was disappointing in his end product. Likewise, his ball carrying and tracking back when on the left gave United no benefits, and left a lot to be desire. Remaining on the pitch for the full 90 certainly raised eyebrows…
All in all, it was a tepid and forgettable affair which ended with the fairest result. A scrappy point, but a welcome one as other results saw the U’s go 10 points clear of the bottom two with 10 games left. I guess, now we’re safe?
Photo: Ben Phillips @capturedcambridge_sport