That wasn’t the return to watching football we were hoping for was it? More worrying, that’s now only one win in the last six for United.
But first, result aside, let’s get to the real story of the day. The return to the Abbey. For nineteen hundred lucky U’s fans this was our first taste of League football at the Abbey since February. As the amber faithful walked, cycled and drove towards the blinding floodlights the sense of anticipation was high.
The new reality was clearly marked out on the floor in red paint. One-way arrows directing fans to their spot on the terrace or seats. Two-metre intervals marked out in the queue for the toilets or food bars. Hand sanitiser stations on your way in. This was football in a COVID world. Up in the stands things were different, seats dotted about, gaps between you and your neighbours on all sides. For those who remember the sub-2500 crowds in the conference era and before, this was nothing new. For those more recent converts to the United cause, they might be surprised at how full the Abbey could look with just 1900 fans dotted about. Now imagine when we’re allowed 8,000 back in. Despite a code of conduct ‘advising’ against singing and shouting, the NRE were in fine voice, greeting the players back like old friends.
Let’s get to the game. United weren’t at their best. In fact, you could argue we’ve not been at our best for a while now, but Mansfield, knocking around at the bottom of the table looked better than their league position suggests. Chances were few and far between in the first half. The only incident of note being a nasty looking injury to Hiram Boateng, the midfield man eventually leaving the pitch clutching his shoulder after lengthly treatment.
The second half saw United improve, but still struggling to test the Stags keeper. Wes Hoolahan was everywhere, constantly dictating the play and ensuring everything went through him. We’ve written before on the enigma of Wes, namely how do you fit him in to a team that is most comfortable playing 4-4-2? Yesterday Wes was both our best and worst player, being involved in everything, but also not having much luck. Is it that Wes is perhaps too good for his teammates? His decision making and positioning always seemed to be thinking two or three moves ahead, and we struggled to anticipate what he was going to do sometimes. It would almost be easier if Wes wasn’t as fit, if he was struggling to complete 90 minutes. Then you could argue we use him as an impact sub. But he’s not. He’s our best creative outlet, and can keep up with his younger peers. Bonner needs to work out how to use him best, because he cut a frustrated figure last night.
Just after the hour mark, the inevitable happened, from a tight angle the tricky Jamie Reid slotting past Mitov. Moments later, United had as clear a cut penalty as you’ll ever see turned down, Hoolahan’s cross hitting the arm of a defender inside the box, but both the referee (more on him in a minute) and his equally awful linesman both missed it. Where’s VAR when you need it?
United threw on Knibbs and Iredale for Dunk and Hannant but couldn’t break through the Stags defence. By this point the referee had let the game descend towards a farce, blowing for the most innocuous touches, but allowing clear fouls to go unpunished. An atrocious display from the man in turquoise, not that it had any bearing on the result, but it did tarnish the spectacle somewhat.
So, we’re in a blip then. And it’s not as bad as B*ro’s blip (four losses in the last five games LOL) but it’s still a blip nonetheless. And it’s a blip we need to get out of quickly. Saturday’s game with Bradford is a must win if we’re to continue challenging at the top end of the table. It’s going to be a lot tougher without Boateng, that’s for sure.
But, this is UTAS, and we’re famed for our positivity, so let’s end on a positive note. We’re allowed back at the Abbey, and all credit to the club for the work they’ve done to ensure fans can watch football in a safe atmosphere. It’s fucking brilliant being allowed to watch live football again, even if we lose.
Man of the Match: Wes worked hard, and tried everything but nothing came off for him, same for Ironside. Hannant was impressive until he was taken off, but Knoyle had a bit of an off day. Cundy stuck his head on anything and Digby relished being able to get forward a bit in Boatengs absence. Mullin probably came closest to breaking the deadlock. Pick any of them, really. We can’t.
Soundtrack of the Match: The Bluetones – Slight Return
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Cundy, Taylor, Dunk (Iredale), Hannant (Knibbs), Boateng (May), Digby, Hoolahan, Mullin, Ironside
We want to know your thoughts on the game as always. How does Bonner fit Wes in his best position? Is May going to be a good enough replacement for Boateng? Should we still be aiming for top three, or lessen our expectations? Hit us up on twitter @abbeystandpod or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
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