There’s nowhere like the Abbey Stadium when it’s full is there? Sure it doesn’t even hold 8,000 people, and the queues for the foot outlets are long, and you can’t get a beer in the NRE, but when it’s packed out, under the floodlights, the atmosphere matches any ground in the country.
For the second time in four days a ginormous roar could be heard across East Anglia as the Abbey faithful cheered a goal from the boys in Amber & Black, and other than the Ipswich game at the weekend I can’t remember a sound like it. Yeah we’ve had more people in there before, but U’s fans right now are cheering us on loud and proud.
The cause of this roar? George Williams, putting the U’s 1-0 up against Sheffield Wednesday after 20 minutes. But lets rewind a bit…
Mark Bonner made a number of changes to the side that drew with Ipswich, with Wes the expected casualty, replaced by Adam May, who in turn moved forward to grant Jensen Weir his second league start. Out wide, Shilow Tracey dropped to the bench for Sam Smith to offer Joe Ironside some attacking support.
Everyone knows we’ve made a bit of a hash of things early on in games recently. The Lincoln game was a disaster, Crewe, Ipswich and Fleetwood all enjoyed goals within the first ten minutes too. We’ve made things hard for ourselves, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say it’s probably cost us a few points. United shook any nerves straight out of their system on Tuesday though, attacking Sheffield Wednesday from the off, and imposing themselves on the game. The addition of Weir to the midfield allowed us some more composure on the ball, and this paid off by ensuring the U’s had a decent amount of possession, attacking the Wednesday goal time after time. Sam Smith had a golden early chance, as did Williams and Adam May, almost scoring direct from a corner kick. Eventually the U’s persistence paid off, and Jack Iredale floated in a corner for George Williams to dive onto and put the U’s 1-0 up.
Although United were enjoying a decent period of control in the first half that’s not to say Wednesday didn’t have chances, and it took a number of saves from Dimi Mitov to deny them an equaliser. Our defence was holding firm, with Iredale in particular having a standout game, covering every inch of the left side of the pitch as he turned defence into attack and back again. Up front, Sam Smith was running tirelessly, but endured a frustrating game in an unfamiliar wide position.
In the second half the tables were very much turned – Sheffield Wednesday came out with a renewed intensity and looked like a team of their stature. We’ve said before we shouldn’t get overawed by the bigger teams in this division as they’re all here for a reason, but when you hear rumours of the likes of Barry Bannan and Saido Berahino being on five-figure weekly salaries, it’s a little easy to get carried away by the gulf in resources, if not class. Talking of class, Bannan was just that – Sheffields version of Wes Hoolahan, and a man who should probably be playing in the Championship still. Berahino on the other hand, despite costing Stoke twelve million pounds only four years ago – looked busy but ultimately ineffective. Has there ever been a more expensive player to appear on the Abbey pitch in a league game? Even Edgar Davids only accumulated six million worth of transfer fees in his career.
The second half was all Wednesday, with Dimi Mitov continuing his fine performance in goal to keep them at bay. If you’d have asked us a few minutes after half time if we’d have taken a point, the answer would almost certainly been yes, such were the problems the Owls were causing us. But we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it many more times over the course of the season – Mark Bonner has made this team fight. Even though Wednesday eventually equalised United’s heads did not drop – we kept it together to hold on for another point, and send another two thousand fans of a former big club away from the Abbey frustrated and disappointed.
There’s still some areas of concern though – we haven’t won a League game since Portsmouth on September 18, and even though we’ve only lost 1 in the last six, we need to start winning games. On the plus side, we didn’t concede until the 80th minute this week. The next four games against Shrewsbury, Doncaster, AFC Wimbledon and Morecambe are crucial, with three of those teams sitting below us in the table.
There’s plenty of positives though, Dimi Mitov was outstanding and Jack Iredale was superb too. I know he’s not ours for long but Jensen Weir looked a real player, and added a fresh dimension to our midfield. We’re getting better and I’m sure at some point things will click and the wins will start to come. Let’s be realistic – we always knew we were in for a tough year, and that we’d probably end up nearer the bottom of the table than the top. But on current form we’re showing we can compete with the big budget teams in the division, and like Mark Bonner, we should be proud of these boys.
Man of the Match: The three above mentioned players were all excellent as was Sam Smith, and obviously Joe Ironside. Williams deserves a mention too, but we’re giving the award to Jack Iredale this week, in his 50th, and possibly best appearance in a U’s shirt. With performances like this he’s certain to start attracting attention from elsewhere before too long.
Soundtrack of the Match: Hard Fi – Hard To Beat
How close was our prediction? Listen back to the latest UTAS Podcast where we previewed this game along with the Wednesday Til I Die podcast special guest.