Well, well, well… how about that?
On Saturday, in Morecambe’s far-flung corner of the North West, United put on nothing short of a perfect performance. As perfect a performance since, well, probably beating the same opposition 7-0 at the Abbey a few seasons ago. It was the sort of display that we aren’t often treated to, and one that has laid down a real marker, if not for the league at least for the standards of this squad. Where the 2019/20 season started with a bang, this one has started with nothing short of outright fireworks. It’s just a shame no one was there to see them.
You’d have been forgiven for being sceptical going into the game. The opening three wins of the campaign and their subsequent clean sheets were somewhat mired after a poor display in the EFL Cup at Newport in midweek, where we looked sluggish, brittle, and uninventive against league opposition. It was a worry not just in the performance itself, but in the questions over the depth of the squad. But this was the perfect way to respond.
Wessi opened his U’s account with a gorgeously struck beauty that found the top corner from the edge of the area – what else was it going to be? – before Mullin added a second pearler by curling home a peach from the corner of the area. It’s unjust such a wonderful finish should go down as an own goal, so we’re giving it to Paul. Adam May also opened his U’s account with a tidy finish, before Mullin, who is only getting better and better, added the 4th and 5th (and his 2nd and 3rd) after half-time to round off a perfect afternoon for United.
This performance wasn’t only impressive in an attacking sense. The rearguard action was staunt and rugged, against a Morecambe side that had beaten Cheltenham in their first league game and overcome Oldham in the League Cup in midweek to set up a third-round EFL Cup tie with Newcastle. In other words, not a bad team at all, and one that even without the menace of Kevin Ellison should stay up comfortably. In the opening 20 minutes they posed a number of questions and were only prevented from taking the lead by a very smart point blank save from Mitov. Cundy and Taylor swept up resolutely and looked comfortable all afternoon, while Kyle Knoyle continued his blistering, relentless form on the right-hand side, constantly pushing high up the pitch as well as effortlessly contributing defensively. The Trent comparisons aren’t unjust.
Any of those doubts you might have had watching our drab 1-0 defeat in midweek were quickly vanquished. Two league games in and we’re two wins from two, with an 8-0 aggregate scoreline. In total, we’re five games in, and have still only conceded one goal, while replying with eleven ourselves. It’s our best start to a season since we could boast names such as Martin Butler on our books. At the very least we should enjoy it while it lasts, but mainly we should look at what it teaches us about this squad.
As mentioned, defensively, we’re resolute. With Harry Darling still to come in, a much improved player over the course of last term, the cover looks reasonably good but I don’t think anyone would be against another centre-half to bolster the squad. In central midfield was where there was the most concern. Liam O’Neil has shown his importance to this squad, and his absence has been felt sharply. Adam May hadn’t shown anything to get particularly excited about until Saturday, where he showed some deft touches and clever passes to link up with the wingers and strikers and topped it up with his sharp finish. More than that though, he looked very organised alongside The Digger, who took on defensive duties while May looked to move the ball forwards quickly. Adding a player like Idris El Mizouni to these options alongside the youth of Lewis Simper and we are sitting very pretty. Up top, Ironside runs himself into the ground and looks to be the making of a cult favourite, while Mullin is looking more and more like the sort of 20-goal a season striker we’ve been crying out for for so long.
And I’ve made it this far without even mentioning the man himself. If you’d had any doubts if Wes still had it, you can settle them now. This was a masterful performance. From minute one he took his position as a ‘right winger’ as a recommendation at best. He floated centrally, often drifting out between the lines and finding himself closer to Luke Hannant and Harrison Dunk than Kyle Knoyle steaming up the right. He linked play effortlessly with the slightly deeper Digby and May and turned to thread exquisite balls through to Hannant, Ironside, and Mullin. Fitness concerns? His 90 minutes looked as comfortable as anyone’s, forget his age. And then there’s the goal – a finish fit for, well, Wes Hoolahan. It was a display to show United fans, and the whole of League 2, that he is still a player cut from different cloth. A level above the standard. I think we’ll be seeing his influence decide a lot of games over the next few months.
It was a weekend full of entertainment from every corner of the sports world. The Premier League produced a record 4.88 goals per game. Bryson de Chambeau cruised to a majestic maiden US Open victory in the golf. Tadej Pogacar overturned a 57 second deficit on his compatriot Primoz Roglic in a momentous time trial on the Tour de France’s penultimate stage. But a Paul Mullin hat-trick on the way to a 5-0 United battering? It has my vote.