After back-to-back defeats to promotion hopefuls Derby and Ipswich, United travelled down to Bristol with the hope they could pick up the crucial three points at the Memorial Ground against a struggling Rovers side.
With the likes of Harrison Dunk and Brandon Haunstrup still on the sidelines, Mark Bonner opted for the one change to the team that fought valiantly at Portman Road on Tuesday night. Big Joe Ironside led the line for the U’s in place of Liam O’Neil, with United reverting back to a more familiar look albeit with George Williams shoehorned in at left back.
The first half in this one was a turgid watch with both sides rarely testing either keeper apart from a few speculative efforts from Rovers midfielders that Dimi Mitov calmly dealt with. The Gas struck the first blow when an inswinging free kick met the head of defender Luca Hoole whose attempt deflected in off of U’s skipper Greg Taylor. An unfortunate goal to concede, though United were lucky not to be 2-0 down moments later after a blatant handball from Taylor went unpunished by the man in the middle.
It was twenty minutes later when United levelled things up. A marauding run from makeshift left back George Williams cut a hole through the Rovers midfield with an inch-perfect pass to the feet of Sam Smith, leading to the striker being fouled by the onrushing keeper James Belshaw. A penalty to the U’s who could be felt hard done by after an early whistle from the referee cancelled out Ironside’s finish from open play.
The U’s started the second half with a spring in their step and an eager urge to go ahead on the scoreboards. Both Ironside and Smith both had efforts well-saved in front of a sold-out away end, two huge chances that on another day would have seen the U’s lead comfortably. Instead it was The Pirates who capitalised on the missed chances with a sucker punch of their own. After neat work on the left wing which left Jubril Okedina spinning, a whipped cross into the box was poked in by the right foot of home debutant Josh Coburn. A deserved goal? Hardly. But when have United had luck on their side this season?
After a few dismal passages of play off the back of the goal, Bonner turned to the bench with the introductions of four players. Liam O’Neil, brought on to replace the injured Adam May, did next to nothing to inspire a turnaround with nearly all of his passes played backwards. Shilow Tracey looked a real livewire out on the right hand side, turning the Rovers left back inside out at any opportunity, yet lacked the crucial end product. Meanwhile on the other wing, Jack Lankester and Fejiri Okenabhirie were too busy tackling each other to make a real difference.
A disappointing day in the West Country for the U’s which leads to a crucial week on the training ground for Mark Bonner’s men. With only one win in the last five, it makes the next few games crucial in not letting standards slip anymore than they have recently. The U’s can’t keep affording to make silly errors at the back, and not taking their chances down the other end. Could the Bonner to Rotherham speculation have affected the dressing room? Was our summer recruitment good enough? There’s many questions to be asked over this tricky period and it’ll be interesting to see how the squad responds. Sheffield Wednesday at home on Saturday is somewhat of a free hit but a result against them could be the spark that this season needs.
Man Of The Match: Lloyd Jones. The only player willing to make anything happen for United.
Soundtrack of the Match: Marmozets – Major System Error.