There are certain inevitabilities in the season for the Us. Liam O’Neil getting injured, fans questioning the release of a youth team product and an inability to get a win at Forest Green.
2020 is the year of unprecedented change to the norm, on Saturday the only drastic change was United didn’t register a goal at a ground they have a healthy scoring record at. Despite the aforementioned no goal, United did go closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half. A good pressing move led to Wes sliding in Mullin, whose delicate chip was agonisingly close to dropping in, instead bouncing back off the bar with the keeper beat.
Had that chance gone in it would have vindicated Bonner’s obvious game plan. Bons had used his media conference on Thursday to praise a Forest Green team who have hardly conceded at the New Lawn and started the day in third position, recently leap frogging a stalling United. It was no surprise then to see a team laid out to allow FGR to boss possession and look for success on the counter. The difference between the high flying Us of the first quarter of the season and this team, who are now win-less in 5 league games, is the deep position we’re conceding possession in.
The Us made one change from Tuesday’s Pizza Trophy success over Gillingham, Idris El Mizoni could consider himself unfortunate to drop out, being replaced by Wessi. Burton retained his place, making a rare league start. This meant that Greg Taylor retained his place in United’s midfield. Having not seen the game on Tuesday, I was told by others that Greg had done a solid job in midfield. I’d receive no messages like that come full time today. Greg playing the Digby role allowed Digby to be the next contestant in the “who can possibly replace Boateng” game show. Neither role suited either party. Whilst the first 45 yielded some eyebrow raising stats (see only 25% possession) the Us looked comfortable in having the hosts contained. The risk of gifting away so much possession would lead to one of two things in the second half, a change in outlook from United or goals for Forest Green…
Despite a brighter start in the second half where the Us looked to assert themselves more, it all quickly went wrong. 2 goals in an eight minute period killed off a limp United. In the 58th minute, United’s constant pattern of sloppiness in conceding possession in midfield led to their downfall. Losing the ball from a position where we should have been creating a break, saw FGR overturn possession and Aaron Collins converted an Odin Bailey through ball (some questions over Burton’s choice in coming off his line…). Moments after the restart, a redeeming smart save at point-blank from Burton kept a rocking United in it, if only for a couple of breaths. From the resulting corner, Hannant’s rash attempt at a clearance put pressure back on United and a silly tackle from Harry Darling resulted in a penalty, which Jamille Matt converted.
And with Matt’s buried penalty United found themselves 2 down for the second Saturday on the trot. Unlike the Oldham game the previous week, the Us weren’t able to get themselves back into the game. Bonner waited until 72nd minute before making a change, and in the 83rd minute made history as United brought on a fourth sub for the first time in a league game. This match report is clutching at straws to suggest that piece of history was a highlight of the afternoon but there isn’t much else on offer.
So another Saturday goes past without a win. Three league defeats on the trot, no win in five and the Us drop out of the play-offs for the first time this season. There are many inevitabilities to a season for the Us, let’s hope the drifting out of play-off contention isn’t a new one.
Man of the Match: hard afternoon to pick one, despite conceding twice both centre backs played well and Mullin always deserves a shout when he has to endure a frustrating afternoon of little support or service.
Soundtrack of the Match: The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before