He’s finally done it. After spending all season working towards this momentous event. The nous, the vision, the bravery. But after weeks thinking it would never happen, it did on Saturday at Carlisle. That’s right, Mark Bonner finally made a substitution before the 70th minute.
We jest, of course the big news from Saturday was Paul Mullin breaking David Crown’s long standing record of 24 League goals in a season. He’s also equalled Crown’s record of 27 in all competitions and with eight games remaining what’s the betting he adds to that before he moves to Bolton/Fleetwood/insert North-West based League 1/2 team of your choice here in the summer?
United started unchanged from the team that had steamrollered Forest Green into submission last week, and after a nervy first ten minutes soon started to assert their dominance on the game. We came close to breaking the deadlock, but the goal didn’t come until injury time in a quiet-ish first half. A rare long ball out of defence by Jack Iredale found Paul Mullin running in on the box, he calmly showed the defender onto his right foot and unleashed a shot that beat the keeper at his far post. 1-0 and pandemonium in the clubs Commercial department as they rushed to rename the South Stand after Mullin at half time.
The second half saw Carlisle adapt to try and nullify some of United’s dominance, which in turn saw Bonner bring off O’Neil and Mullin for fresher legs just after the hour mark. Say what you want about O’Neil (and many do) but he brings a calmness and confidence on the ball that others don’t have, and he’s put in some solid performances this season. The move to bring Mullin off was as a result of a knock that we weren’t aware of at the time, so was questioned as Ironside didn’t have much of an outlet and United looked to take the sting out of the game.
Carlisle retaliated by bringing on the dangerous Lewis Alessandra and he wasn’t even on the pitch ten minutes before he scored as a result of a poor punch from Callum Burton at a corner that he probably should have caught.
At this point it looked like it was at least two points dropped as Carlisle seemed to get a late second wind, and when the impressive Boateng came off for Adam May that looked like that for the U’s. But, the one thing we forget, we always seem to forget, is the never-say-die attitude of this team, and when Carlisle mounted a late attack it was the U’s who broke thanks to the pace of Shilow Tracey, who combined with Wes Hoolahan to put a cross into the box that looked like it was no-one was going to get to until Adam May, Adam bloody May of all people, arrived from out of nowhere to calmly put the ball into the back of the net. Cue more pandemonium back at the Abbey Stadium offices as they renamed the whole ground the Adam May Stadium.
It’s been said a thousand times, but teams that challenge always find a way. We might not have deserved all three points, and you’ve got to feel for Carlisle who thought they had the League wrapped up in January but are now 19 points behind the mighty U’s, but we found a way today. Of course we had Wes Hoolahan who always gives you a chance whenever he’s on the pitch, but it was the whole teams attitude to keep trying to find that way until the very last minute that is something that’s been lacking from previous United teams under other managers. Mark Bonner has it drilled into these lads that we have to find a way and that second best isn’t good enough.
Every game we’ve played recently has been massive, but our next two over Easter really are. Morecambe sit sixth, and Tranmere sit third, both with a game in hand on us. Six points would be the dream, four probably enough, one or two and it’s going to be an even nervier end to the season than we would like.
But until then, let’s enjoy sitting top of the table, somewhere we thought we wouldn’t return to after Scunthorpe, and look forward to the Easter games. We’re one of the best teams in this league, we’re here because we deserve to be, and we’ve got the fight in us to make sure we stay there.
The Paul Mullin of the Match Award: It can only go to Paul Mullin – looking at him in the context of the entire season Mullin has been in the form of his life. He’s never even broken double figures in the League before, and has scored as many goals this season as he did in 120 games at Morecambe earlier in the season. But there’s so much more to him than just goals – if you just looked at the figures you’d expect him to be a goal-hanging poacher, but Mullin goes out wide, comes deep, covers almost everywhere on the pitch and makes goals for his team mates too. We know he wants to move back up North at the end of the season for family reasons, but Cambridge is nice isn’t it Paul? Give us another season will you…
Man of the Match: The first half in particular you could have given it to anyone, with Kyle Knoyle winning tonnes of praise from the opposition commentators and Greg Taylor as solid as you like at the back. We’re going to give it to his defensive partner Jubril Okedina though, who didn’t let his man beat him all day and looks twice the player of the one who came here on loan in January. He suffered a torrid time at Salford but hasn’t let that beat him and has played his way back into contention ahead of Declan Drysdale.
Soundtrack of the Match: Beastie Boys – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)
United: Burton, Knoyle, Okedina, Taylor, Iredale, Digby, Boateng (May), Hoolahan (Dunk), O’Neil (Hannant), Mullin (Tracey), Ironside