We said in our Barrow match report that we hoped that result pissed Bonner and the players off as much as it pissed us off. And for 90 minutes yesterday we weren’t sure that it had. United worked hard, but offered little in the way of creativity going forward. But this time, unlike Barrow, they played until the whistle blew, in the second half at least.
United started with the familiar lineup we’ve come to expect, Cundy preferred alongside Taylor over Darling, and a tough midfield duo of Digby and Boateng. Ironside was dropped to allow Wes a supporting role behind Mullin.
We’ll say it now, Mullin up top alone doesn’t work against three defenders. It was painfully clear after about thirty minutes yesterday he wasn’t going to get anything against them. We’ve seen it in other games this season too, he needs someone to play off, especially when he’s going to be marked for close attention given his goalscoring reputation. This gives Bonner a headache – how do you fit Wes Hoolahan, comfortably the most talented player in the entire League into his preferred number 10 role, whilst still retaining enough bodies in the middle of the park to ensure we don’t get over-run there?
The game started in difficult conditions and a first half was largely uneventful from both teams, Mullin shooting at the keeper in a one-on-one that was either sides best chance. In fact, had the ref blown on 45 minutes, it would have been, but as the clock ticked over into injury time, Paul Mullin went down under a strong challenge with a cut to his head. After a short break for treatment Mullin went off to the sidelines, and with probably only seconds remaining Cheltenham advanced, and after pushing Boateng were strangely awarded a free-kick for handball against the United man. At this stage Mullin was still off the pitch, and the referee was in no mood to let him back on to defend the free kick, despite the 45 being well and truly over.
Anyway, Cheltenham drilled in their free kick, Mitov spilled it and Ben Tozer was there to put them ahead some four minutes after the whistle should have blown. United were understandably furious, Wes earning himself a yellow card for remonstrating with the dire ref, and Bonner marching on to the pitch to give him an earful when he eventually blew for half time. Regardless of what the ref should or shouldn’t have done, United should have done better with the free kick, and this was a second late goal conceded in as many games. Concentrate, boys.
The restart came with yet more controversy for the men in luminous yellow, as the linesman flagged an early Paul Mullin chance for offside, it looked okay to us, and the goal should have stood, but our mate in the middle had other ideas, agreeing with the Lino and ruling it out. Moments later, some delightful play from Hoolahan set Hannant up with a sweet back heel, his shot fizzing across the box, agonisingly out of reach of the incoming Mullin and Dunk.
Wes at this point, was lucky to be on the pitch, having cynically stopped a Cheltenham counter attack, the ref warning him when he could have easily showed a second yellow.
Bonner eventually made changes on 75, Dunk making way for Ironside, and ten minutes later Iredale coming off for Knibbs, as United went all out in search of an equaliser. Cheltenham were wise to this (and the referee’s timekeeping) and made the most of their time with the ball, taking corners and throw ins with all the urgency of a sloth on his way to a dentist appointment.
We thought they’d done enough to see it out, but with 95 minutes on the clock Kyle Knoyle turned two defenders to put in a delightful cross, which landed at the feet of…
Head bandaged, blue shirt, late equaliser. Could this have been the moment Paul Mullin cemented himself in U’s folklore as the new Shaggy? Okay, maybe that’s going a bit far, but after taking a touch to control, Europe’s top scorer (take *that*, Erling Brut Haaland) lashed it in to the net, and set off on a celebratory jog to the U’s bench, where he Klinsmann-dived at the feet of a joyous Mark Bonner, the rest of the team joining in.
So after last weeks last-second disappointment, this is how it feels to be on the other end of it. Did we deserve a point? Not really. Did we get a point? Yes we bloody well did – and more importantly, it was two points dropped by a promotion rival. There’s issues with the team for sure, and this was far from a vintage United performance, but an away point at the team second in the League? You have to say that’s a decent result, whatever the performance.
Man of the Match: It would be too easy to give it to Paul Mullin, as much as we’d love to, so this week he’s going to share the award with Kyle Knoyle. Shoutouts also going to Paul Digby, for being just the kind of bastard you want on your team (how the hell were Stevenage so crap last year with him in the middle?) and Hiram Boateng, who was majestic yet again.
Soundtrack of the Match: Paul
Mullin Simon – Late In The Evening
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Cundy, Taylor, Dunk (Ironside), Hannant, Boateng, Digby, Iredale (Knibbs), Hoolahan, Mullin