Hope has to be high that, despite recent disappointment, the Imps will take some goals and full points from today’s fixture against Cambridge, writes Tom Morton.
The U’s are on a dire run of form; this year, away from home, since mid-September. You can slice their season several ways and it still looks terrible. For example, they are yet to win in 2023 and in fact, have conceded thirteen times in four games (that includes two 5-goal hauls for Sheffield and Shrewsbury). Their away form includes just two wins the last of which was way back at the end of October – leaving them bottom of the table for away performances.
Actually, Cambridge had a fairly bright start to the season. They picked up four of their seven wins in the first seven games but since beating us at home on 3rd September things have taken a nose dive. Three wins, two draws, and fourteen losses have left them languishing in the bottom four.
Often you’d look at this form and say it should be an obvious win for us today. This is a team without any kind of away result for several months and who are conceding an average of 2.31 goals away from home. That is against a team whose key success this season is being so far unbeaten at home. We expect, and I think need, to show we can take a game like this and put it to bed.
The U’s have been fairly busy, as you’d expect, in the transfer window. We’ve all seen the news that ex-Imp Connor McGrandles signed on loan during the week. It’s probably a good move for him. Since joining Charlton unexpectedly in the summer he’s only played a handful of times and I suspect that Cambridge will look to have him anchor a shaky midfield.
Cambridge also secured the return of Michael Morrison. Morrison is a former U appearing 108 times between 2005 and 2008 in the then Conference. Since then he’s been playing mostly Championship football with the likes of Leicester (where he was part of their 2009 League One promotion squad and then played 31 times in their impressive 09/10 Championship season), Charlton, Birmingham, and Reading. Since September he has been at League One rivals Portsmouth.
Their fans are obviously happy to see a well-liked and highly experienced center-back join the squad. Reactions on Twitter suggest Pompey fans are not sad to see him go, but I am not reading too much into that. At this point of the season, the U’s will be looking to that experience to lock up a loose defence.
That defence is looking fairly poor. In highlights they look static and unsure, failing to close down players and back each other up. Cambridge are definitely a team whose heads drop after the first goal and start to look like they run through mud. Shrewbury’s fourth goal last weekend is pretty embarrassing; on a break, the Salop man has free range of the box, which at one point was 1 vs 4, and basically walks past defenders and goalkeeper – he actually ends up at the edge of the box, turns and punts it into the net. It’s an awful goal from Cambridge’s perspective showing a team who simply can’t get organised.
Despite that Cambridge had 62% of the possession and ten shots on target. But left with little to show. The problem, I think, is they are lacking creativity and directness. Top scorer Sam Smith is handy with his head (so look out for set pieces and crosses targeting him). However, it does feel like their one trick. If it doesn’t come off they are up against it.
OK well, I do feel a little bit I am talking about our own form. Although I’d like to think we do have sparks of creativity. At the end of the day, today isn’t complicated. They struggle with pace and fail to capitalise on possession. A firm back-line, let them play a bit, and hit them on the break. It’s not rocket science. Of course, with that formula don’t expect a classic (although obviously given recent scorelines I do hold out hope for our own 5-for).
Head to Head
Our form against Cambridge is fairly mixed. Of course, we lost the reverse fixture (which was also around the summer deadline day) which was the first time we saw some of the rough edges in this year’s squad. Last year’s home fixture was an end-to-end encounter which they nabbed in what was rightly described as a “sucker punch”. That said, the fixture before these, in September 2021 was a glorious 5-for. Hopefully that’s a model for today’s match.
Before their last two victories, you have to go back nearly three decades for a Cambridge win in our head to heads. In that timeframe, we’ve faced them multiple times in the fourth tier and either shared honours or edged the win. Overall we are 14 wins, 10 draws, and 10 losses since our first encounter back in 1970.
Like most fans, I suspect, I feel nervous about today’s game. Our squad only feels weakened, with limited signings so far. Today’s should be a game we come out with energy and focus and put beyond sight in the first half. But that isn’t our home style this season and part of me is just hoping we keep hold of that unbeaten run.