Say what you want about supporting Cambridge United, but it’s never boring is it? Bonner’s boys took us on a rollercoaster ride of a match Saturday, from utter despair to nervous trepidation and finally total elation. It’s like every single emotion of being a football fan rolled into one.
Let’s start at the start and address the elephant in the room, the first eleven minutes, which saw Oldham tear through us like a hot knife through butter and put themselves two-nil up and seemingly on the way to an emphatic victory. To be honest, it could have quite easily been three, with Keillor-Dunn missing a simple header when he probably should have left it for his strike partner.
The first goal came on two minutes, Davis Keillor-Dunn breaking the offside trap and finding himself one-on-one with Callum Burton. The U’s stopper got a touch but the ball rode up over him, and the Oldham striker was left to give the ball a simple tap in to the net.
The second wasn’t much better – a miscommunication between Greg and Burton allowing Keillor-Dunn to nip in and finish his second from close range. At this point, Bonner changed formation and settled the back line, and possibly reminded debutant Aji Alese that he wasn’t playing down the park with his mates, and couldn’t play as striker and to stay at left back. We’ll speak more about Alese later, but it’s safe to say those first fifteen minutes didn’t fill us with confidence.
The wind was against Oldham in that first half but United were undeterred and tried to make the most of it – credit for not dropping heads at 2-0 down, the U’s fought and fought and when Wes Hoolhan received the ball on the edge of the box fifteen minutes later, he twisted and turned his way into the box, being eventually dispossed by a crowd of five Oldham players, one of which was outmuscled by Greg Taylor for the loose ball. Greg was tripped and there was only one outcome – penalty to United. Paul Mullin (who else) stepped up, and again – only one outcome. 2-1. That was Mullin’s 24th league goal for the season and his 26th in all competitions. He equals David Crown’s league goalscoring record and is just one behind his overall record of 27 in a season. It’s been a tough week for the Crown, hasn’t it?
Ten minutes later Paul Digby cut out a long clearance, set the ball towards Wes in the same position and the loose ball was picked up by O’Neil who made a short pass to Ironside, back to goal who played it out to an advancing Jack Iredale on the edge of the area. We know he likes to hit them from there, and he duly did, his low shot fizzing through a crowd of players and beyond former U Laurie Walker in the Oldham goal. The third goal came right on the break of half time, an Oldham attack turned into Declan Drysdale playing a 1-2 off their striker, Wes freeing Iredale who sent Mullin scampering towards goal – Mullin could easily have shot but unselfishly decided to play a neat back heeled pass to Iredale who – from a much closer range this time – put United 3-2 up.
The second half saw United continue to dominate, but Oldham always had a threat in them – Bonner took off Alese, and Liam O’Neil for Hiram Boateng and Luke Hannant to look to control the game further. A word on Alese then, who after a nervy first 15 mins settled into the game really well and looked fairly composed, getting forward when needs be but also working hard at the back. I don’t think he’s going to replace Bonner’s preferred partnership of Greg and Drysdale but he looks like he could be a decent enough option at left back if Dunk’s tired or injured and Iredale is preferred further up the field.
On sixty-eight minutes came arguably the turning point in the game (although in truth, United never really looked like losing after going ahead) and possibly one of the defining moments of our season, Bobby Grant going down in the box under a challenge from Kyle Knoyle and after a short discussion between Grant and Davis Keillor-Dunn over who’s going to take it (Keillor-Dunn being on a hat-trick) it was down to the number 10 to hit a tame shot that was easily saved by Callum Burton. No equaliser, no hat-trick, no luck.
After that you couldn’t really see a way back into the game for Oldham and on 86 minutes Luke Hannant took a corner that drifted straight into the net, with a little assistance from keeper Walker. Game well and truly over.
So, a massive win at a place we tend not to do so well. After the first ten minutes, that was the kind of assured, confident, never-say-die U’s performance we’ve become used to under Mark Bonner. Results weren’t kind to us at all, so it was hugely important we picked up another three points. We’ve got a week’s break now until our next game – another absolutely massive one, against fellow promotion chasers Forest Green Rovers. But confidence should be high, and players should be well-rested. Three points will be aim, and there should be no reason why we can’t get them.
Man of the Match:
Oldham goalkeeper Laurie Walker. Obviously we can’t go without mentioning Paul Mullin with his record-equalling goal, and unselfish (and classy) assist for our third. Credit also goes to his strike partner Joe Ironside, who yet again got battered and bruised for the caused. But we’re going to give it to both Jack Iredale for his two excellent goals and Paul Digby who showed yet again just what an important part of this side he is.
Soundtrack of the Match: Steely Dan – Show Biz Kids
United: Burton, Knoyle, Taylor, Drysdale, Alese (Hannant), Hoolahan, Digby, O’Neil (Boateng), Irreale, Mullin (May), Ironside