Cast your mind back to 13th April 2002. Maybe you were watching with interest the ongoing coup in Venezuela. Maybe you were heading into Our Price, Virgin or HMV to pick up a copy of Gareth Gates Unchained Melody on CD single, or perhaps you wanted Oasis new tune The Hindu Times to knock the reality star off the Number 1 spot. Maybe you were looking forward to the appearance of Ali G on Parkinson that evening, or perhaps you’d been and treated yourself to a brand new Citroen Saxo. Football wise, Chelsea were skint, Arsenal were actually good. Bolton, Sunderland and Ipswich were all in the same division, although it was the Premier League, and B*ro were still shite. You probably weren’t looking forward to watching relegated Cambridge United take on Tranmere at the Abbey that afternoon, although four thousand of you still turned up to see us win courtesy of David Bridges and Tom Youngs, plus a missed penalty from Lionel Perez that hit their goalkeeper with such force he had to spend the night in Addenbrookes with broken ribs.
That was the last time Cambridge United won a game at this level, and as you can tell, it feels like ages ago. The years in between have been a mixture of heartbreaking, amazing and just plain forgettable, but guess what? The U’s are back in League One baby, and they’re winning games again!
Burton came to town on the back of three wins in three, whereas United were still looking for their first victory. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side had already beaten Ipswich and Sunderland, the U’s had snatched points agains Oxford and Plymouth. Coupled with the very lean looking defence due to the long-term absence of Captain Greg Taylor, it looked like being a difficult afternoon for the boys in Amber & Black.
Mark Bonner & Ben Strang had wasted no time in identifying a replacement for Greg, with a call to QPR delivering the highly rated Conor Masterson just in time for kick-off. Masterson has played a number of times for the Hoops in the Championship, plus turned out for Swindon in League One last season so was hopefully just what was needed. He lined up in the centre of defence alongside Lloyd Jones, flanked on either side by George Williams and Jack Iredale. In the middle we had Brophy and Wes in the wide positions with The Digger and Liam O’Neil in the middle. It was a welcome return to two up top as Sam Smith partnered Big Joey Ironside.
This was one of those games, of which you get a handful of every couple of seasons where the stats tell a completely different story to the result. Although United were far from outplayed, Burton racked up eight or nine shots on target, to United’s one. Yet the result, as we well know, stands at three-nil to the U’s. Our first goal, made by the magician Wes Hoolahan came from a tidy deflection from a Sam Smith shot. It weren’t pretty but you take them all. Smith led the rest of the team to the United bench, where they picked up Greg’s shirt, showing The Abbey just how much our captain is missed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium.
United continued to play well, without ever really threatening too much, and whilst Wes was incredible again (is it just us or is he getting even better?) and George Williams continuing to put in another strong performance it took a slightly lucky touch from Burton defender Tom Hamer to put the ball past his own keeper to double our lead. Of course it was Wessi involved again, crossing for Shilow Tracey to cause Hamer to try and clear whilst facing the goal. United’s third came again from Wes, finding Williams who’s cross found only the confused shape of Tom Hamer again, who put it beyond his keeper and was on the verge of an unwelcome hat-trick.
Whilst all this was going on up front, the defence and goalkeeper Dimi Mitov were having a blinder at the back. Mitov looks like a different player this season, and we hope he proves our pre-season prediction wrong in the way Greg did last year. Jones and Masterson looked like they’d been playing together for years, and Burton couldn’t find a way through. They did manage to hit the bar in the dying minutes, but a combination of last-ditch defending and Mitov at full stretch prevented them from getting a consolation.
What have we learned from all this then? Firstly, we’re not going to be the Leagues whipping boys this season. We’re going to fight and compete for every last point. We probably won’t challenge the playoffs, but we should have enough about us to stay out of trouble. Secondly, two up top at home please, Mark. Thirdly, Wes Hoolahan is way too good for this league. He’s still playing with a smile on his face, even on a pissing wet August afternoon. Get him signed up for another year. And lastly, 2002 was a bloody long time ago, wasn’t it?
Man of The Match: A few to choose from. Dimi Mitov kept us in it with save after save, and George Williams keeps getting better with every game. But yet again, it can only really be Wessi can’t it? To watch him play is a pleasure that all of us will remember in years to come. He still glides round the pitch like he’s 28 rather than 38, and would you bet against him being able to do it at a higher level still?
Soundtrack of the Match: MC Hamer – Can’t Touch This. Some sage advice from one Hammer to another, when the ball comes into the box next time Tom, just leave it alone mate.
United: Mitov, Williams, Jones, Masterson, Iredale, Digby, O’Neil, Brophy (Tracey), Hoolahan, Smith (Knibbs), Ironside