It’s back! The football season kicks off again on Saturday with the mighty U’s starting life in League One at home to Oxford. Every other preview you read of this fixture is going to mention some Varsity derby bollocks that no-one who supports either team actually cares about, so let UTAS guide you to our opponents instead.
The pre-season games have given some indication as to how we might set up this season, and the newly-narrowed pitch at the Abbey suggests that we won’t be playing an expansive, wide game of football. That said, with wingers James Brophy and Shilow Tracey on the books and the likes of Harrison Dunk, Jack Iredale and George Williams behind them, who knows what we’ve got in store?
Dimi Mitov is likely to start in goal, having played most of our pre-season games so far, with Captain fantastic Greg Taylor partnering Lloyd Jones in the centre of defence. Either side of them we expect to see Williams on the right and Dunk on the left.
In midfield we think we’ll see the biggest changes – Digby and O’Neil will probably hold the central positions, although highly rated loanee Jensen Weir could be in for a start too. If we’re sticking with 4-4-2 we think Brophy and Hoolhan will take the wide positions with Smith and Ironside up front, although theres a chance we could see one up front, with an extra man in midfield (probably Weir or Adam May) if we’re going to be under pressure.
Expected U’s Line-Up: Mitov, Williams, Taylor, Jones, Dunk, Hoolahan, O’Neil, Digby, Brophy, Smith, Ironside
Who’s Their Player To Watch? Oxford have a fair amount of experience all over the pitch, from goalscorer Matty Taylor up front, to long-serving defender John Mousinho at the back. Younger players to watch include Gavin Whyte, on loan from Cardiff.
Who’s In The Dugout? Karl Robinson spent six years at MK Dons before a shorter spell with Charlton. He’s been at Oxford since 2018 making him the fifth longest serving manager in the division.
What’s Their Recent Form Like? Too early to say…
Any Ex-United Players? Nope
Last Time Out: Oxford 1-0 Cambridge, 12 January 2021
A defeat in the Pizza Trophy was the last time we met, although you’ll need to go back to 2016 to find the last time we played each other in a League fixture
From The Archive: Cambridge 2-2 Oxford, 23 January 1993
Some proper rubbish defending on show in this early 90’s encounter at the Abbey.
UTAS Moosenet Tip: 1-1 (Smith)
No chance two strikers. It will be one with a five man midfield behind. 50/50 between Ironside and Smith for who starts. Also think Iredale will get the nod at left back.
I actually think Jones and Okedina could be a very good centre back partnership. I think Taylor will have a fight on his hands to prove he’s worth his place in League 1.
Would like to see Weir starting. Think he’s got a lot to offer. Hope they don’t play him too deep, as I think he’s got a lot to offer pushing forward. In that curious Cambridge United way that sometimes happens with loan players, he might find himself sixth or seventh choice for a five man midfield, when in reality he’s right up there with Hoolahan, Digby and Lankester quality wise.
The big question with United, if they do rely on a lone striker and a five man midfield is will they link together well enough to produce the goals to give them a fighting chance of staying in the division? 8-10 goals each would be a reasonable return for Ironside and Smith, who look to be in direct competition for game time, rather than playing alongside each other. That means a considerable amount of goals from other areas. The attacking midfield options look to have goal scoring potential – Hoolahan, Lankester hopefully (when fit), Weir, Brophy, Tracey and even Adam May possibly. United have had issues with lone strikers being isolated in the past and very little being created. This was evident against Northampton in the final friendly and has to be a concern. As does the defence, which got turned inside out a few times in pre-season, most concerningly in the first half against Brentford’s B team. Even though last season saw United concede their fewest goals in recent seasons, most of the goals they did ship could be considered soft and easily presentable. United are prone to switching off at the back in key moments and that will be exploited more than ever in League One. I will predict, despite the five man midfield, United won’t keep many clean sheets this season.
Be fascinating to see how many of last season’s promotion squad can make the step up to league one and hold down a regular place in the side. Been a slightly bizarre transfer window, which started well with the recruitment of Jones who looks a good CB with age on his side and potential to develop further. Lankester and Weir also look promising signings and getting Okedina on a permanent deal looks to be good business. Other than that, the recruitment has been underwhelming, IMO. Jury is out on Williams and Brophy. Squad still looks a bit lacking in terms of quality and depth. Doesn’t look like United have the finances to genuinely compete in L1, so can Bonner use the underdog, siege mentality and get them playing for him and punching above their weight again. Arguably, they haven’t really strengthened overall. Arguably, with the loss of Mullin and Knoyle, they are weaker than last season.
Couldn’t envisage any other manager achieving anywhere near as much with United as Mark Bonner. Bonner had an excellent first season and a bit and seems a great influence on players, staff and fans alike. Balances ambition with realism and sets a higher performance standard than many of his predecessors. Always looking for the team to improve their performance levels. But this is Mark’s biggest challenge. If he can keep United above the bottom four at season’s end on what seems like an absolute shoestring of a budget for the level, he’ll have achieved nothing short of a miracle and it would eclipse the achievement of promotion.
I think it might need to be a season of low expectations and underdog spirit to hopefully overachieve again under Bonner. A fifth bottom finish has to be the target, with anything more an absolute bonus. Can they score enough goals, will they concede too many. Those are the key questions.