United came close to scoring in the ninth minute, Ben Worman’s corner sinking awkwardly for the home defense, in no man’s land. Williams and Ironside slashed at the ball desperate for any connection that would put the ball over the line, but to no avail.
Worman, replacing Simper as United’s only change, again found himself on the ball inside fifteen minutes, shooting from the edge of the area. Although it didn’t trouble the home keeper it was exactly the type of chance United have failed to muster this season. The New Lawn, unhappy hunting ground for United, seemed to offer a New Start for the goal-shy U’s.
As profligate as United’s defense has been this term, Lloyd Jones has been the standout performer. Forest Green’s absent press continually gave Jones, and Okedina, space and time to run with the ball out of defense, picking their passes. Woman was pivotal in passing moves that buoyed the traveling U’s fans with an energy from the off that seemed uncharacteristically aggressive and optimistic.
Forest Green’s preference for defending deep continually allowed United space in and around the home side’s penalty area. Ironside almost re-lived his goal at St. James’ Park, turning on the spot in the 23rd minute, with only last-ditch blocking from Forest Green keeping the shot away from the net.
Williams’ second mistake of the half offered the home side their best chance before the break, Williams putting his body in the way to prevent Mannion from needing to make a save. But it wasn’t long before United’s clean sheet was muddied. March found the net in the 37th minute. United’s unwillingness to score gave the home side the confidence to press more aggressively and get men forward. The simplest of crosses played in from the edge of the area was unchallenged, the 5’9” forward glancing the ball past the helpless Mannion. The goal was a gut-punch to the visitors who, up until that point, seemed the more likely to score. The damage to United’s mood was obvious, the remainder of the half resembled the same (lack of) style of the previous three months. Sideways and backwards passing. Lofted balls inevitably cleared of danger. No shots.
United’s first half superiority had disappeared by the start of the second, the traveling fans hooting “shoot” each time a player in blue found the ball anywhere close to the home goal. Mark Bonner had seen enough by the hour mark, making two attacking changes—Shhhmith replaced Ironside for more pace; Lankester replaced Knibbs for more creativity. The opposite resulted. The game slowed to a crawl, devoid of inspiration. Exactly as the one-win-in-twelve home side wanted.
The longer the game went on the more it looked as if Forest Green were risking more by pushing men forward, United allowing them territory and possession.
Cambridge have done so much self-harm this season. The final few minutes somehow found a way to dig deeper, defining a new low that undid the single moment of joy on the day. Shhhmith’s good hold up play gave Janneh a shot and a goal the away side desperately needed. The U’s, typically, gave away a bargain-bin penalty for the home side to immediately restore their lead. Mannion’s header on goal plastered excitement over the gaping cracks of another thrown-together effort which seemed agonizingly inevitable.
United, despite Bonner’s pre-game optimism, found themselves three points from safety, five points from bottom. A corral of bitter Cambridge players surrounded the officials at the final whistle, berating the penalty decision. It was a guilty look in front of the traveling fans, the only good performance of the day. The 14 players on the day failed to press, tire, or better their League Two-looking opponents into submission. Bonner’s men were quick to point the finger, but it was another point they failed to earn against a team they needed to punish.
Man of the Match: Lloyd Jones was good going forward but we need defenders who can defend, not pirouette. Harrison Dunk offered a hair more than most.
Soundtrack of the Match: Elastica – 2:1
Good honest report. Also this week’s pod hits the nail on the head in many respects. So refreshing to hear an honest perspective other than the happy clappy blind faith everything will be ok and nothing needs to charge mentality from sections of the fanbase and the whole of the local media. The performance levels have massively dipped, that’s plan. Whether the players have given up because their minds aren’t on the job or whether the manager’s reluctance to change anything tactically or an element of both are the cause, it’s clear it isn’t good enough and it can’t continue. It can of course and if it does, it will result in relegation. At some point, the team and the club are going to have to decide whether they want to have a genuine crack at staying up this season. At the minute, it looks like the don’t have enough about them. January is unlikely to solve the issues, I feel. I heat the club bemoaning a ‘difficult window’ already.