Meeting the opposition – Cambridge United F.C

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Cambridge United F.C

April is a month packed with league fixtures as clubs try their best to either put themselves in with a solid chance of promotion or relegation. Two clubs that are fighting for promotion play against each other on Easter Monday at Prenton Park, Tranmere Rovers and Cambridge United. 

Thus, I decided to speak to my good friend Alex Jones about all of the Yellows on and off pitch subject matters ahead of the game. He also gave his pre-match thoughts, score predictions and predicted starting eleven.

How long have you been a Cambridge United supporter and when/how did you first come across them?

I’ve been a Cambridge United supporter since about 2014. I used to live in the Netherlands, but moved to Cambridge in 2010. Don’t want to sound like a plastic fan, but my first match was the FA Cup tie against Manchester United! I was a season ticket holder before I moved to university and I’m now lucky enough to regularly cover the club as a journalist for Prost International.

Highest and lowest points across that time?

To be honest, our highest point is probably right now. Top of the league with seven games left to play. It’s the best that the club have performed since we were promoted to League Two in 2014. 2018/19 was the worst season that I’ve seen since I started supporting the club. We were almost relegated after a dire first half of the season which saw our manager, Joe Dunne, sacked. Colin Calderwood replaced him and just about managed to guide us to safety.

Random fact about the club?

Rumour has it that we passed up on both Chris Wilder and Danny Cowley in 2015, opting to appoint Shaun Derry instead. Derry was sacked in 2018, while Wilder and Cowley have won promotion five times in that period.

What were your expectations going into the season and what are they now that the campaign’s coming to an end?

We finished 16th in the league last season after deciding to sack Calderwood and replace him with former assistant manager Mark Bonner. Given that this was his first full season in senior management, fans were hoping for a playoff push at best. Considering the position we’re in with so few games left to play, it’d be a big disappointment if we don’t achieve promotion. We’re now one of the bookies favourites to finish in the top three, so that’s the aim.

Mark Bonner is the gaffer and was appointed last year. Thoughts on him?

Fans were originally frustrated with his appointment, given that it was a similar situation to how Dunne was appointed in 2018. But he’s been sensational. He’s completely turned us around in just a matter of months and plays really exciting, attacking football. We also have one of the strongest defensive records in the league. For my money, he’s one of the best young managers in the EFL.

Who are the club’s owners and what are your thoughts on them?

Paul Barry is our owner. He’s been a long-term supporter of the club and has been majority shareholder since 2017. He became sole owner in 2019 and has offered substantial financial backing since then. The fans really like him, and he deserves a lot of credit for our transfer activity and this season’s success.

Your danger men?

Former Tranmere striker Paul Mullin, of course! The 26-year-old now has 27 league goals after scoring a brace against another one of his former clubs, Morecambe. He’s scored more goals this season than he did in his three years with the Shrimps, and has broken David Crown’s Cambridge United record of 24 goals in a single league campaign set all the way back in 1986. Joe Ironside is also a strong physical presence up top, while Norwich legend Wes Hoolahan has also contributed with some crucial goals in recent games.

The last time the two clubs came head-to-head was in late September 2020, a League Two encounter which resulted in a 0-0 draw. Thoughts on that game?

Pretty dull, wasn’t it? It was the first time we’d failed to win this season, but ultimately it was a game that we were lucky to draw. I’m hoping for a better performance and result this time out, especially after Tranmere’s loss on Good Friday.

How do you see this game panning out? (Score prediction etc) and why, if you do, do you think that this game will pose more questions than the one last year?

It’s such a huge game for both sides. The reverse fixture came really early in the season, whereas Monday’s game will play a huge part in deciding the automatic promotion places. We’ve won five of our last six now, while Tranmere have only managed one win in five (including that crushing defeat away at Cheltenham). I’m going to be optimistic and say 2-0 Cambridge.

What starting eleven do you think Bonner will select?

I’m sure that if he could, Bonner would name an unchanged side as he has done in our last three matches. He’s hinted that he’ll be making a couple of changes, however, with the biggest question mark hanging over Wes Hoolahan. The 38-year-old hasn’t played more than once a week this season, so may not make the trip up to Birkenhead. Nonetheless, expect a fairly similar starting eleven to the side that beat Morecambe on Friday.

Thoughts on Tranmere? The club in general.

I really like Tranmere. My family lived around the area in the late 80s / early 90s and often went to games. I can’t think of any other lower league club that has two major Premier League sides so close to them and still has such a large and loyal fan base. They always travel in numbers and always make a lot of noise.

Thoughts on Cambridge United’s winter transfer business?

We didn’t need to do too much in the winter transfer window. However, we lost two key centre-backs as Harry Darling was sold to MK Dons, while Robbie Cundy was recalled by his parent club Bristol City and loaned out to Gillingham. We used the loan market to bring in three defenders: Aji Alese (West Ham), Jubril Okedina (Spurs) and Declan Drysdale (Coventry). We also took Shilow Tracey on loan from Spurs, who’s been a useful player to bring off the bench.

A player that was signed this season, but not in the winter, Paul Mullin. He spent a couple of seasons at Tranmere but never managed to stake his place as a regular starter. He’s certainly done that and more with the Yellows, he’s even been awarded with a stand named after him? Do you think that was just and what are your thoughts on the speedy and tricky bags man?

I know that Tranmere fans saw his quality, and many were frustrated that he wasn’t given opportunities at Prenton Park before being sent out on loan to us for the second half of last season. He’s been absolutely sensational this campaign, although naming our South Stand after him for the rest of the season was a bit extreme! We’re enjoying him while we can, as he’s likely to leave this summer at the end of his contract. He’s the first quality striker we’ve had at the club since Uche Ikpeazu left for Hearts in 2018 and has been the star man in guiding us to the summit of the League Two table.

Paul Mullin has really shown his worth throughout his time as a Cambridge United player, he was good for Tranmere but didn’t get much of a sniff where being a starter was concerned.

Thank you very much for reading,

Stay safe, 

Ethan Hoijord

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