It’s been 91 days since that Saturday against Grimsby, 526 days since a full capacity crowd watched United at the Abbey, and 7,049 days since our last appearance in League One which was a 2-2 draw against Northampton, but finally we were back. After last season’s rollercoaster watching Cambridge via iFollow, and away from stadiums, we had returned home to a party atmosphere welcoming the recently promoted U’s back, and what an occasion it was. The NRE started singing from around 5 past 2 and didn’t stop until after the final whistle, celebrating something that half the fans haven’t seen for nearly 20 years and that the other half have never seen before. Oxford would provide a stern test for the newly promoted U’s having achieved the playoffs in the last two seasons.
Cambridge stared 3 of the new signings made in the summer but had a largely similar squad to last years iconic promotion squad, Joe Ironside spearheading the attack with the Irish Messi, our very own Wessi sitting behind him. As the players took the knee to a rapturous applause from all four sides of the 6,444-capacity crowd at the Abbey, our life in League One begun and immediately we saw the task ahead of us. Oxford pressed and had the majority of the ball but weren’t able to challenge much. They tested Mitov a few times in front of the NRE but to no avail. Cambridge had a few chances to test Stevens in the Oxford goal with Tracey, Wes and Brophy being live wires and causing problems for there defence but alas, it was Oxford who finally took a chance and scored with Steve Seddon finishing with a sweet volley from the back post in the 42nd minute. It was relatively harsh on the U’s who had put in a great performance so far.
The second half came with a similar tempo to the first, Oxford having chances to finish off the game and United playing resiliently to stay in the game and creating their own chances to get back into the game. Bonner brought on Sam Smith and Adam May and reverted back to 2 up top which was so successful for us in the previous season, and with that change Cambridge started to become the more dangerous side. And finally we had our chance to level with 12 minutes left to play, Paul Digby of all people venturing forward and being fouled in the box to win us a penalty. The rain started to pour down as up stepped Joe Ironside who potentially has quite big Paul Mullin sized shoes to fill. But he had the calmest head in the Abbey to slot the penalty into the bottom right-hand corner. In the words of Mark Johnson “United and the Abbey has taken off” and how right he was. Sheer euphoria from all but one of the stands in the stadium, and Joey led the players to the NRE to celebrate with the fans. From then on in, Cambridge had the wind behind there backs and pushed for a winner, testing Stevens in the Oxford goal a few times with some testing crosses. But neither team could find a winner and it ended 1-1. A thoroughly good result for the Amber Army against a strong Oxford side who will be challenging for promotion this year.
Looking back at the game, we played superbly. Few things need to improve in general, like the ball in the final third but that’ll come with time. If Bonner is reading this, then I have to say that one up top doesn’t work. Ironside is a great striker but can’t do it on his own. Whether it’s Knibbs or Smith, we need a second man up top. We saw last year the effect Ironside had on Mullin and vice versa, and it works. We’re back at the Abbey against Swindon on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup before a trip to the superbly named Wham! Stadium on Saturday against the club known for its milk adverts, Accrington Stanley. We’ve all seen what every journalist on earth has said about where we’ll finish this season, how we are hopeless and going to go straight back down but the exact same happened last year and look what ended up happening. We’re not here to just make up the numbers and yesterday enforced that. If we play like that every game then we’ll be fine because we played brilliantly and will be looking to create some sensational memories this season.
Man of The Match: My heart says all of them, but my standout performer has to be Dimitar Mitov who made some sensational saves to keep us in the game. Feel like Lloyd Jones, James Brophy, Shilow Tracey and George Williams also deserve a lot of credit for a great debut performance in front of the Abbey faithful, all who look like great additions to the squad.
Soundtrack of the Match: Backstreet Boys – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
United: Mitov, Williams, Taylor, Jones, Iredale, Digby, Tracey, (Smith), O’Neil (May), Hoolahan, Brophy, Ironside