I’ve spent most of this weekend decorating my kitchen. It’s a boring job, prepping, sanding, painting and then re-doing everything a second time. So I was looking forward to 3 o’clock on Saturday when Mark Bonner’s free scoring U’s entertained promotion hopefuls Tranmere Rovers at the Abbey. By 5pm, I was wishing I’d sat and watched the paint dry instead, such were the lack of meaningful opportunities created by Bonner’s side.
United lined up as they lined up for last weeks demolition of Morecambe. That meant Mitov in goal, swashbuckling full backs Harrison Dunk and new friend of the UTAS gang Kyle Knoyle either side of Taylor and Cundy in defence, with Hoolahan, Hannant, the Digger and Adam May ahead of them, with Ironside and former Tranmere man Paul Mullin leading the line.
United started how they’ve started every game this season, straight out of the blocks with Luke Hannant attacking down the left wing. He almost found Mullin before the game was thirty seconds old. So far, so good.
The U’s had a bit of early possession but most of the chances were falling to Tranmere, Dimitar Mitov foiling ex-Everton veteran James Vaughan on a number of occasions. Twenty minutes in and the U’s had a rare chance, Paul Mullin with a low cross that just evaded Digby, and Hannant was running in to finish. Unfortunately his shot cleared the crossbar, South Stand, Cambridge Airport flight path and is still somewhere in orbit now. It was an absolute sitter and Hannant knew it, his muted reaction to cover his face with his shirt. You’ve really got to hit the target from there.
From then on, it was all Tranmere, Vaughan making a nuisance of himself, and growing more frustrated with a calm Mitov by the minute. The U’s were soaking up the pressure, but didn’t really create much until Adam May had a long range shot five minutes before half time, well saved by the Tranmere keeper.
The second half started much the same as the first ended, Tranmere on the front foot, and Vaughan continuing to act a petulant prick, this time begging the ref for a yellow card for Cundy’s soft challenge. You’re not big time any more mate.
The U’s were getting their heads, feet and in Mitov’s case, hands to everything Tranmere were throwing at them. Cundy, Taylor and Dunk all putting their bodies on the line for the cause, and Digby trying to clear it all up.
With an hour gone, the anonymous Wes Hoolahan was hooked for Idris El Mizouni to make his Abbey return. Wes covered a lot of ground, but today wasn’t a game he’ll remember fondly, it wasn’t really happening for him today.
The U’s had a couple of half-chances, Hannant again and Ironside both failing to trouble the keeper, and with 15 to go Adam May made way for Jack Iredale.
On 83 minutes came perhaps the only excitement of the game, Mitov spilling the ball at the feet of an onrushing (and thankfully offside) James Vaughan who dinked it over him and into the net. The linesman took an age to flag, the ref wasn’t sure, and after a short discussion United’s clean sheet stood.
With a minute to go Bonner took Mullin off for Harry Darling, and his first act was crucial, getting his foot just in front of Vaughan to put him off a clean shot on goal. With that the game was over.
So, the U’s unimpressive and not creating much going forward but resolute at the back again. Hannant should have scored, but in all honesty a win would have been unfair on Tranmere who ran rings around us all afternoon. We know we’ve been critical of Mitov on the pod this year, but he was outstanding today (that one spillage aside) and controlled the game from the back, making a number of important saves, and coming for crosses well. The strikers ran around a bit, but never really had any clear cut chances. With all that said, Tranmere are likely to be up there this season, and will be one of the teams tougher opponents. It’s a cliche, but we’ll definitely see this as a point gained, rather than two dropped, and the defence will take confidence from third clean sheet in a row in the League. Somehow we’re still top of the table, and whilst it doesn’t really mean anything at this stage of the season, it’s a nice place to be.
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Cundy, Dunk, Hoolahan (El Mizouni), Digby, May (Iredale), Hannant, Ironside, Mullin (Darling)