After Tuesday’s humbling against Portsmouth, the U’s again headed south in search of the elusive points to match their (at least first-half) performance. The mood among the U’s staff and supporters buoyed by the comeback win against Exeter. Today’s task was no easier, up against another ex-Premier League club whose ambitions far outstretched their guests’. Last year’s exciting performance inspired hope that an improved points return from the fixture was there for the taking.
Haunstrup returned to the bench in favor of Dunk; Williams started into right-back with Okedina in the center with Taylor dropping out; May replaced O’Neil; Brophy replaced Ironside with Smith leading the line.
Within the first minute United should have scored. Tracey, one of several recent standouts, beat his man inside his own half, neatly beat a second inside the Charlton half, and delivered a hanging cross into the area. Knibbs rose, unmarked, but mistimed his jump, the ball looping over the bar from point-blank range.
United’s unfashionable preference to play directly out of defense is partly to reduce high risk errors. It’s also effective at League One level with a team built on athleticism. Jones’ direct ball found Williams wide on the right. Smart passing found Knibbs goalside of his marker and it was his cut-back which left Brophy with a chance from the edge of the area on his favored foot. The shot zipped wide of the post and the heads-in-hands U’s seemed haunted by the ghosts of last season’s Valley visit and their need to take chances.
Keen to make a difference on his return to the team, Brophy produced and excellent chance for Tracey to break the deadlock after beating his marker to the byline and crossing menacingly into the six-yard box. The keeper was beaten but Tracey’s touch eluded him and the sole goal-line defender cleared the ball smartly clearing the danger.
Charlton grew into the half through direct, aggressive play that stretched the United midfield. Stockley found himself with more time than he realized, misfiring wide with only the keeper between him and the goal. He then found a better chance much closer to goal from a poorly defended cross, Jones only half meeting a header that removed the chance for a simple Dunk clearance. Stockley, licking his chops, left Mitov on his backside and the ball midair for an easy tap-in by Fraser. The United defenders were second-best at each turn. For the second time in a week United found themselves hard done by going into the break down a goal.
But they wouldn’t have long to wait for their goal. Digby, ever-thankless workhorse in midfield, intercepted a loose ball before passing to Brophy in his own half. He ferried the ball forwards, head-down, before spotting an overlap from Dunk on the left. Dunk pushed on and crossed perfectly for Smith. to head on goal. The keeper reacted smartly to stop the shot but the rebound found Tracey in space with a ball to Knibbs his best chance of scoring. Tracey lashed the ball at Knibbs, Knibbs redirected it into the open net. United had their long awaited goal at the Valley.
Charlton’s response was angry and direct, especially through Blackett-Taylor. Ironside’s introduction to glue the ball far from Mitov’s goal didn’t work. Charlton allowed space to break but leaned heavily into their punches as they took swipes at their opponents. Clayden’s cross leered over Mitov’s head as he wheeled back to pluck the ball from the air, bobbing against the frame of the goal. Leeburn—another excellent introduction—shot down Mitov’s throat after a scramble. United put to rest the South-coast disappointment to chalk up four points from losing positions in seven days.
Man of the Match: Dunk continues to defy expectations, combining excellent defensive resolve with adventurous and productive dribbles into enemy territory. His endeavor to push on, and his perfect ball into Smith created the United goal.
Soundtrack of the Match: Sheer Mag – Suffer Me
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