Football fans eh? We’re a funny old lot. Whether it’s spending thousands of pounds travelling around the country watching a team who can’t buy a win, or clamouring for the return of rubbish former players for nostalgic value, or spending the past week whinging on twitter to anyone that will listen that it’s unfair you’ve been banned from watching football due to expressing abhorrent racist views, the one thing that bonds us is the coming together at three o’clock on a Saturday to watch our club in our stadium.
You could argue that U’s fans deserve to watch live football more than most – we’ve suffered greatly in our support for United, including missing out on the chance to play in the Premier League, being relegated despite finishing fifth-bottom, nine years spent in the Conference and two play-off final heartbreaks. But when Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged the county into Tier 4 on Christmas Eve meaning fans were once again forbidden from watching football, there weren’t too many U’s fans complaining. Why? Put simply, we’ve been crap since we were allowed back into the Abbey again. The three league games we were allowed to attend resulting in just one win, against Colchester.
So, the Abbey gates were locked, and United once again put on a scintillating display for those watching on iFollow, right? Kind of, it took the U’s until 2pm to realise that. As is usual in UTAS fashion, we’ll gloss over the boring stuff, we didn’t start well and were barely able to register any meaningful attacking chances. In particular, Wes Hoolahan, out on the wing was ineffectual, losing the ball more often than a player of his class should. Orient scored from some standoffish United defending, with a cross parried by Callum Burton into the path of Danny Johnson to put the O’s in front. Our best chance to equalise came shortly after, when Paul Digby headed over from ten yards out.
The second half saw United improved, Hoolahan moving into a more central position where he was able to exert more influence on the game. Christmas turkey run off, Hoolahan remembered he was once an international class footballer, and in a crowded area, made enough space for him to put away a low shot beyond the keeper. Wes was instrumental minutes later as Jack Iredale crossed to the edge of the area, Wes dummied past the impressive Cisse, laid it off to Joe Ironside who with a quick touch played it back across goal, where Wes had drawn two defenders away from the onrushing Paul Mullin. Mullin, unmarked in the area? Only one outcome. 2-1 United.
The U’s continued to look for a third, and Orient made a number of changes to try and turn the game in their favour, piling pressure on us as the clock run down. Some top-tier shithousing from Callum Burton and class defending from Harry Darling kept the scoreline the same as Orient simply couldn’t find a way through.
Positives then? Wes Hoolahan finally rediscovered a bit of his early season form in the second half and turned the game around. Another Paul Mullin goal, his nineteenth of the season. Three points earned from a losing position. We’re still in and around the playoff mix, and our next game is against Stevenage who should be rolled over easily (although we remember oh too well last seasons disgraceful capitulation at the Abbey).
Negatives? It took us a long time to get going. Maybe it’s just a bit of post-Xmas sluggishness, and we’ll forgive that if it’s a one-off. Hoolahan shouldn’t play on the wing any more any more than Greg Taylor should play central midfield. Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. Callum Burton made a couple of great saves, but still looks a bit shaky, and he should have done a lot better with the goal.
Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan showed us exactly the kind of player he was with his second-half performance, but was poor in the first 45. Harry Darling didn’t do much wrong in defence, and Jack Iredale was great on the left again.
Soundtrack of the Match: Sufjan Stevens – It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad
United: Burton, Knoyle, Darling, Taylor, Iredale (Dunk), Hannant (Davies), Digby, May, Hoolahan, Ironside, Mullin (Knibbs)