Fan’s View 23/24 – No.26: Cambridge at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, December 28th, 2023  


Before the Burton game I thought we’d win easily. I even had 3-0 in my mind. That eventually came about. Last Saturday – Northampton – I wasn’t particularly confident we’d win but thought we wouldn’t lose. That so nearly happened. For this match though, not a feeling, not a clue.

Backlash from the sub-par performance at Northampton? Asserting ourselves, playing our football in areas that hurt the opposition and sharing the goals about? Forwards scoring? Or unable to deliver again in front of a large crowd, many of whom may have been dragged along possibly under sufferance for a once a season festive family tradition? Can’t cope with the stronger more physical approach of the opposition?

Cambridge were unbeaten in the three league games since Neil Harris became manager, recording two wins and a draw but their opponents hadn’t been the strongest in the division. Their away record though makes dismal reading. They won the first game on their travels at Fleetwood in August but have only picked up three points on the road since.

So it’s a case of “if we can’t beat these” alongside “there’s no easy games in this league” which always has to be thrown in.


This match fits perfectly into that box marked “a game of two halves” so best to split it accordingly.

First half

Nothing had changed from the incredibly poor showing against the Cobblers. Half time comments I picked up included “we can’t go on like this” and “how long is Buckingham’s contract, three and a half years?” Fair comments I’d say. No two managers will operate in quite the same way so any new incumbent obviously needs to be given time to stamp their mark. Managers though will always come under scrutiny when the team for which they are responsible are losing and/or not playing well.

We were so bad no wonder questions were being asked. Out of possession we looked lost. Another comment I heard was that we were neither pressing as a team nor dropping off to form a solid shape to make it hard for the opposition.

Cambridge on the other hand had a plan which, given the way we were trying to play, was very effective. Such is the way of many teams now, our goal kicks were nearly always the shortest possible with James Beadle being the eleventh outfield player. The visitors had two men on the edge of the box ready to put immediate pressure on with a line of three a bit further back. We had nowhere to go and weren’t demonstrating in this scenario that we had the skill to play our way up field.

On one occasion we didn’t set ourselves up for this with most players on the park being gathered together in quite close proximity to each other. This left Fin Stevens in the right-back position with, for once, a lot of space and the obvious choice to receive the ball I would have thought. But no. He jogged along to join everyone else. Beadle knocked it long and, to no-one’s surprise, we didn’t win it.

Football constantly evolves and most fans understand that. There are though still some who want the ball thumped forward at every opportunity whether or not your team has “a big bloke” up front. None of this namby-pamby passing about at the back. Possession, bah! Stick it up there and watch them have a fight to see who can next whack the ball with force one way or another.

Plenty though do appreciate the latest style. When done with purpose and the exponents are the best players on the planet it can be a work of art. However, when it is just sideways, backwards, going nowhere stuff nearly ad infinitum the frustration in the stands is palpable.

Mostly our play was slow and the other criticisms we trot out from time to time were asking to be trotted out again.

Nobody seemed to have their head up to search out more attacking passes and even when playing it about at the back we sometimes still took three passes to get nowhere when one – and a simple one at that – would have done the job. This gave Cambridge even more time to get their defensive set up fine-tuned just in case we started to test them a little bit.

No partnerships were evident when we had the ball. There was no understanding with players appearing to be on many different wavelengths. Whether it was the man on the ball or one off it at fault is difficult to tell. If the passer played it short expecting his team mate to come to him to receive, the run was made for a longer ball and vice versa.

We weren’t winning the physical battles and from my vantage point it looked like a few of our players had started to argue among themselves.

The very rare occasions when we did pose a slight threat came about from first or second time passing and the pace of Mills.

Half an hour had gone when we went behind. The info on show that we concede the least corners at home of any L1 side. Which is just as well because we’ve temporarily lost the ability to defend them. This seemed a routine delivery. Elliott Moore jumped but didn’t connect. Beadle doesn’t have the physicality to legally batter his way through a congested six yard box to collect. All Cambridge had to do was throw a few bodies into the mix and Jordan Cousins stuck out a foot when the ball dropped. Our players were holding theirs which is against the laws of the game but has somehow become acceptable and 99% of the time goes unpunished. Perhaps we’re not doing this well enough. Should Mark Harris have done more to stop Cousins?

Even though we weren’t doing anything of note it wasn’t as if Cambridge were threatening to score a load more but they still appeared to be much more likely to get a second than we were to wipe out their lead.  James Brophy headed a very easy chance wide when close in with only Beadle to beat.

So the best that can be said at the break was at least we were only one behind.

Second half

We started this period better than the previous one. There was a bit more intensity about everything we were doing but after about five minutes I wondered if the pattern of the game was heading back to that of the first half. Cambridge weren’t fazed and still looked quite confident on the ball.

Then we equalised and from that moment on we were the dominant outfit and this dominance became even more so with the introduction in the 65th minute of Josh McEachran who replaced Marcus McGuane.

The goal was a superb piece of individual skill but came about not from a patient intricate passing move but by trying something a bit more ambitious which, although it didn’t come off, ended up creating the space which Tyler Goodrham exploited to great effect.

Cambridge captain Michael Morrison headed a high ball back into our half and Ruben Rodrigues hit it first time on the rise aiming cross field for Goodrham. It would have been spectacular if it had come off but Liam Bennett cut it out with a heavy touch which he followed by sliding into our half. He was now out of position. Ciaron Brown immediately found Goodrham out wide. He quickly made ground, cut infield and found the back of the net from outside the box with an accurate low shot giving Jack Stevens little chance.

I only recall McEachran giving the ball away once. When forward passes were on he played them. He was able to find team mates directly ahead of him in central areas with angled passes. This had not been happening previously. Perhaps we didn’t have anyone else capable of playing such balls or perhaps we didn’t have the men in such positions to receive these passes. Or perhaps the way Josh plays makes others instinctively get into the right areas of the pitch.

For all this vast improvement it looked for all the world that we wouldn’t get a second as the clock ticked by. We’d come close on more than one occasion.

A marvellous one two between Harris and Cameron Brannagan was only thwarted by the outstretched arm of Stevens (J). Harris had one of those games where fans of his can point out all the good things he brings to the team whilst those more critical can still argue that more is needed from a striker/centre-forward. But what is he? What is his brief?

There was so much to admire about our late winner. Patience. Not belting the ball into the box on a wing and a prayer. Getting enough players up to keep the pressure on. Accurate shooting. And having not one but four players on hand to get the parried ball over the line. That was desire. That said we wanted it big time.

The commentators on local Cambridge radio tried to argue that their team deserved a draw. Over 90 + minutes that’s really pushing it. All teams in their situation would probably have done it but their time wasting tactics and professional fouling got what they deserved at the end of the day. They were frustrating to say the least.

Five minutes was added to the ninety and those grains of sand seemed to flow through the hourglass at an alarming pace with the ball hardly being in play.

With a minute and a half of the five remaining we played passes across the pitch to get the ball to Joe Bennett. He was pulled back by Brophy, a booking as plain as day. When the free-kick eventually came in after Cambridge had made a substitution, they couldn’t get the ball away cleanly. Rodrigues picked it up and calmly side footed it to McEachran. He did the same, moving the ball on to Brannagan who was about 10 yards outside the box with no white shirts anywhere near him. He shaped to shoot first time but didn’t. After teeing it up he hit one on target which Stevens could only parry.  Brown’s head did what was needed. I’ll say he’d cleverly just stepped back on side.

It was more relief than unbridled joy for me when that went in. It was only half way back to the car that I experienced the deep satisfaction and happiness of a last minute win.

When referee Tom Neild blew for full time the clock showed 90 + 7 mins 38 secs. During this added time the ball was in play for 2 minutes 39 seconds. That means we had 53% of the 5 added minutes.

Analysis of Premier League games shows that this is broadly the percentage of time that the ball is in play at the very top level. If you take this 53% figure and extrapolate it across this game taking into account added time in each half we actually saw approx. 51 minutes of football. Has it always been thus? Have we any right to expect more? The players troop off anyway having given their all.

They have to “go again” on Friday against Derby where the quality of the visitors will be much higher than those we’ve faced in our last two games at Minchery Farm. The league table is screaming at us how important this encounter is.

More pressure. More drama. But will it be disappointment or ecstasy on the final whistle? That we don’t know is what makes football so compelling.


There’s no financial analysis of Cambridge because firstly there’s not a lot to go on as they only produce short version accounts. And secondly Colin unfortunately succumbed to the dreaded Covid on Christmas Day and missed the game. I know he’s not he only one as there’s plenty of it and other nasty stuff about such as chest infections etc. Here’s hoping that all Yellows fans who are currently suffering to such an extent that they can’t get out to follow their team make a swift and full recovery.

There won’t be a financial stuff following the Derby game either. They just don’t publish accounts.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 28th, 2023 at 4:56 pm and appears under Export, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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