“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up to his bedroom, gripping his laptop, logging into iFollow, and without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
Okay, we’ve misquoted the great Bobby Robson there, but for the time being at least, this is how football is going to be. United started their League Two season at an empty Abbey Stadium, after the last minute cancellation of a planned test event which would have seen 2500 fans back at football for the first time since, er, Tuesday.
The U’s lined up with the same starting XI as we did at Birmingham in the Carabao Cup, meaning Mitov got the nod in goal, in front of a back four of Knoyle, Taylor, Cundy (making his first league start) and Dunk. The midfield saw Hoolahan and Hannant out wide, with The Digger and O’Neil in the centre, whilst striking duties were left to Paul Mullin and Joe Ironside.
United started brightly, winning a corner straight from the kickoff, and eight minutes later Ironside won a challenge with his head despite being on the floor, the ball fortuitously falling for Hannant who advanced half the length of the pitch before finishing with a delightful chip over the Carlisle keeper.
Three minutes later, we’d doubled our lead, Kyle Knoyle crossing from out wide onto the head of Paul Mullin for his first of the season. United were cruising, with Mullin and Digby coming close to adding to the tally.
On 25 minutes the game changed, Liam O’Neil pulled up after clearing the ball, and went off to be replaced by Adam May, this started a period of intense Carlisle pressure, and they nearly pulled one back through Toure on 34 minutes, his shot had Mitov beat but sailed just past the post. Carlisle continued to press the U’s, O’Neil’s absence being felt in the middle (words we never thought we’d write here). Hoolahan continued to show his class when he got touches of the ball, and should have added a third just before half-time, but Ironside chose to shoot instead of squaring the ball to Wessi. The half finished with handbags between The Digger and Carlisle’s Patrick after a strong challenge in front of the Habbin. The ref sensibly issued a yellow card to each, when either could have gone.
The second half started much as the first finished, with Carlisle continuing to put pressure on a resilient U’s defence, at points all 11 of the boys in black and amber camped in the box to stop an onslaught of Carlisle corners. Hannant, Digby and Taylor all contributed to the defensive duties.
United were tiring at this time, Mullin and Ironside in particular looking exhausted after chasing everything, a tactical switch by Bonner saw Iredale come on for Hoolahan, swapping wings with Hannant, but still Carlisle continued to heap on the chances, although finding the target was proving a challenge for the northerners. A knackered Paul Mullin made way for Harvey Knibbs on 76, bringing a touch of fresh energy to the team. Robbie Cundy suffered a nasty clash of heads, and Dunk was hurt late on too, but both recovered to finish the game.
Knibbs almost set up Ironside on 84 mins, a nice touch to take the ball past his marker, but Ironside was crowded out before he was able to get his shot away. His persistence paid off a minute later though, when Kyle Knoyle again put in a great cross, just behind Ironside, but he turned his body superbly to finish and put the game to bed. Seven (seven?!) minutes of injury time followed, and still Carlisle surged forward albeit ineffectively, and the U’s held on for the win.
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Cundy, Dunk, Hoolahan (Iredale), Digby, O’Neil (May), Hannant, Ironside, Mullin (Knibbs)
A good start then U’s fans? Impressed with what you saw? Who was your Man of the Match? Let us know on Twitter @abbeystandpod