We’ve just released a podcast that’s all about Wes Hoolahan so forgive us for not mentioning him much here. Actually, scratch that. He was brilliant against Harrogate wasn’t he? Ignoring the first twenty-five minutes (let’s just say it took us a bit of time to adjust our eyes to the fog), Wes was majestic, putting in a performance that recalled his best at Norwich and for Ireland. Look at the stats, 107 touches. 71 successful passes out of 89 (70 of which were in the Harrogate half), one assist, one goal. Incredible.
Ten other players started alongside Wes, in the same team that lined up against Grimsby. That meant Dimitar Mitov kept his place in goal, and Harvey Knibbs was chosen up front over Joe Ironside while he gets back to full match fitness.
United started somewhat sluggishly, and were punished after 10 minutes when a long ball over the top caught the defence napping and Jack Muldoon was there to put the ball beyond a helpless Mitov. Harrogate kept the pressure on, but United countered this by changing into a diamond formation and slowly began to reassert themselves on the game. With Digby at the base, and May and Hannant in the middle this allowed Wes Hoolahan the freedom to impose himself, and the Irish wizard covered every blade of grass as United started to dominate.
The second half started with United playing as they left off, chances fell to Hoolahan, Knibbs and Mullin (with a great overhead kick attempt) before Harrison Dunk, Adam May and Wes combined in a lovely move on the edge of the area to allow Wes to put a cross in for Joe Ironside to finish and equalise for the U’s.
The odds swung dramatically in United’s favour on 78 minutes when Lloyd Kerry was sent off for throwing a childish punch at Harry Darling as United attempted to take a free kick. Kerry had only been on the pitch ten minutes, already picking up a booking before this straight red. The game was put beyond doubt three minutes later as an Adam May shot was blocked, rebounding out to the feet of Wes Hoolahan who finished from eighteen yards, before running half the length of the main stand in celebration. If only we were there to celebrate with him.
The scoreline didn’t reflect United’s dominance, and this was perhaps their best performance since October. The diamond formation bought out the best in Wes Hoolahan and also gave Adam May the space to put in one of his best performances in a U’s shirt, carrying the ball forward wherever possible. As Hiram Boateng signed on loan until the end of the season on Saturday morning May will face a fight to keep his place once he returns to fitness, especially now as Liam O’Neil is back in training too, but having options in that position is never a bad thing.
Credit must go too to Mark Bonner, for recognising the need to change tactics early on and being bold enough to do so. Will this mean we stick to the diamond (a tactic that hasn’t really worked under previous managers) or persevere with 4-4-2? After Saturday’s performance -which let’s not forget- leaves us third in the table, we’d like to see it given another go, especially if Wes Hoolahan starts. Our next match is in the Papa John’s against Oxford so we don’t expect to see a full-strength side, but it may allow Bonner to experiment with a Plan B, before an Essex double-header against Colchester (decent, but on a crap run of form) and Southend (crap, but on a decent-ish run of form) sees us return to League action.
Man of The Match: It can’t be anyone else can it? Wes Hoolahan, turning back the clock with a complete display. Shouts also go to Adam May and Paul Digby, as well as Joe Ironside.
Soundtrack of the Match: The Pogues & The Dubliners – The Irish Rover
United: Mitov, Knoyle, Darling, Taylor, Dunk, Hoolahan (Davies), Digby, May, Hannant, Knibbs (Ironside), Mullin