For a few years in the early 00’s there used to be a guy who’d call into the Radio Cambs phone-in each Saturday with his assessment of the U’s performance that week. Win, lose or draw, it was always the same, summed up in one word. Dire.
I don’t know if he still watches United (he was probably one of those turncoats that buggered off to support Histon during their Conference heyday), but if he does, he’d have been well within his rights to phone back into Radio Cambs after Saturday’s performance.
Dire. That sums up Saturday pretty well. Oldham started the day towards the bottom of the table, much like Wednesdays opponents Mansfield. By the end of the match you could easily have believed the table was upside down, as United failed to create much in the way of meaningful attempts on goal.
First half? Not much happened until just before half time when Harvey Knibbs was fouled in the box and Paul Mullin stepped up for the penalty. Unfortunately his weak, placed effort was easily saved by the keeper. Go back to smashing them fucking hard please, Paul.
Second half? Much of the same from United, that is to say, not much at all. Oldham took the lead when a cross deflected up off the heel of Greg Taylor for Conor McAleny to volley home, and shortly after Alfie McCalmont shot through a crowd of no less than eight U’s defenders to put Oldham two up.
Eventually Wes and Idris El Mizouni came on and United started to create a little more, the pair of them teaming up to deliver a cross for Mullin to make amends for his shite penalty with a fine finish, but little more than a consolation for the U’s.
Problems, then. First and foremost we missed Hiram Boateng today. Adam May can’t tackle and isn’t very good at getting forward, occupying much of the same space as Digby. We’re back to the dark days of Deegan & O’Neil again. Digby did little wrong, but it wasn’t his best performance and we can’t expect him to carry this team forward on his own. On another note, why isn’t he our captain? Him and Iredale were first to confront every bad decision and poor tackle yesterday, with Greg often nowhere to be seen.
Tactically Bonner started with two up front in Mullin and Knibbs, but Knibbs soon started to drop back to play a deeper role. This isn’t his strength at all and he didn’t impose himself on the game. With Ironside injured and Wes probably knackered after 90 mins on Wednesday there isn’t much in the way of other options there. We need to start making the tactics fit the players we have rather than making the players fit the tactics. There’s no point using Knibbs as a number ten, or Wes as a winger if they’re no good in those positions.
Finally, someone needs to drill into Luke Hannant that he’s not 2001 era David Beckham. If he wants to add goals to his game he’s not going to do that by firing long shots over the bar five times a match.
So, another forgettable performance, and one we pegged as a must-win after Wednesday. That makes (and we’ll ignore tomorrows Papa John’s Trophy game with Gillingham) Saturday’s trip to Forest Green a MUST WIN. We’re sixth now, so still in the playoffs, but on a terrible run of form, and there’s a lot of teams snapping at our heels. A win on Saturday gets us back in the automatic promotion mix. A defeat, and we could drop to thirteenth.
Dire then? Yeah it was. Let’s not paper over the past couple of performances, they’ve been terrible. But there is hope. We’re a decent side, and we’ve got some quality players. Knoyle, Dunk, Iredale, Hannant, Wes, Mullin. They’re all top players and would fit into almost any side in the league. We’re just a bit naive. Did the Southend postponement affect us? Undoubtably it put a gap in a decent run, but we need to get over the injustice and return to winning ways. Christmas always gives us a good idea of how the final table will look, so we really need to snap out of this current blip if we’re to stay in the hunt. It’s going to take some bravery, it’s going to take some tough decisions, and it’s going to take some ugly football at times, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what we’ll have to put up with.
Man of the Match: Kyle Knoyle. Had a bit of an off day against Mansfield but was back to his best yesterday.
Soundtrack of the Match: Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Cundy, Dunk, Hannant, May (El Mizouni), Digby, Iredale (Hoolahan), Knibbs, Mullin