League Two Table
Question of the Week
Will Paul Hurst stay at Grimsby?
|No Turning Back?|
By: Andrew Doherty
THE rain seemed to be staying away. The wind whistled and howled. 400 became 1000. 1,023 to be exact. That’s not the wind-chill factor but the number of Town supporters visiting Cambridge for the second time in three weeks. This time it was the FA Trophy semi-final first leg.
There’s something unsatisfying about first legs. Football rarely brings a sense of achievement but there’s never any achievement in a first leg. There’s no tangible result. But this didn’t stop the Town Thousand from gathering to watch the 90 minute first half of this fixture, which will eventually lead to the glory of facing Gosport or Havant & Waterlooville.
"Mostly cloudy" was the Cambridge weather according to my phone. "Fresh and cold" would have been a better description, but my phone is a master of optimism and understatement. It’s been "sunny" for the last week. I’m puzzled. Like having the date displayed in a car, what’s the point of this information? I was in Cambridge already so I should know it’s "mostly cloudy". Such questions apart, the pitch looked in good shape. The crowd of 3,264 was ready.
Town’s team had some notable absentees from the regular first team but there was plenty of experience: McKeown - Hatton, McDonald, Doig, Fyfield - Rodman, Kerr, Disley, McLaughlin - Cook, Hannah.
Town kicked off and immediately McLaughlin tried a shot from the centre circle. It caught out Norris in the Cambridge goal but flew wide. Cambridge went on the attack. McDonald had to head the ball over the Town bar to concede the first of two corners. Donaldson then cut outside and forced a low save from McKeown. Elliott nearly had his head punched off as McKeown cleared. McDonald was booked for a mistimed tackled. "You’re not very good" chanted the Cambridge supporters as John-Lewis took the ball too far, forgetting that their own player had lost possession to allow John-Lewis to break away. But Cambridge looked the more incisive of the two teams, as Town struggled to develop any pattern. As the rain swept in, Cambridge stepped up the pace. A perfectly placed pass on 20 minutes from the unchallenged Pugh split the Town defence and landed at the feet of Bird who from the inside of the box directed a low shot into the left hand corner and beyond the reach of McKeown. Cambridge 1, Grimsby 0.
There was no response from Town however as Cambridge continued to apply pressure. A weak clearance from Doig on 24 minutes was returned and McDonald mopped up again, conceding a corner. Town’s passing was very poor. Fyfield and Disley showed rare glimpses of skill but as a team they weren’t in this game and offered no threat whatsoever. Town’s first chance came on 28 minutes when John-Lewis’s glancing header from outside the box went over. Town had a fortunate escape on 30 minutes when after struggling to clear the ball, Roberts’s cross just evaded the advancing Berry. Had there been contact, Cambridge would have scored. Town had not learned their lesson from the earlier goal and were failing to close down Cambridge who were being allowed to play creative, passing football. Roberts cut inside on 33 minutes and shot at McKeown, who punted the ball up the pitch. The advancing John-Lewis forced Norris to head clear. Town had the opportunity to set up an attack but possession was lost. Town finally won a corner on 39 minutes but McLaughlin’s kick and follow-up were woeful miskicks. This led to a Cambridge breakaway, but Town’s defenders managed to crowd out Elliott. Cambridge had another attack on 42 minutes after another Town mistake. Two minutes later McDonald sliced his clearance out of the ground for a corner. Rodman then had the chance to make an impact but weakly lost the ball before McLaughlin’s run up the left ended disappointingly with a cross to the goalkeeper. Half-time was a relief. Cambridge United 1, Grimsby Town 0.
The fact that Town’s substantial support was subdued was easily explained by the team’s overall and individual ineptitude. Lethargic and lacking in fight or fire, this was a half of surrender and misplaced passes. It was hard to find positives. The sun was out now, but it was still mostly cloudy.
The second period got off to a feisty start as Fyfield flattened Bird in the first minute in Town’s box. The referee adjudged it a fair challenge. Cook followed Fyfield’s lead as he battled to peg back a Cambridge defender, showing a quality which the whole Town team had lacked in the first half. But Cambridge were soon back and Donaldson delivered a piledriver from the left side of the box into the Cambridge supporters behind the goal. Town still did not look comfortable but on 53 minutes Rodman found Cook who held off the defender and won a corner. Fyfield kept the brief momentum going by using his speed to win the ball and put in a cross from the left. But it was Cambridge who supplied the flair. Helped by a gaping hole on the right and a neat back flick from Donaldson, Taylor crossed to the swooping Bird whose header from close range was inch perfect. Cambridge 2, Grimsby 0. A desperate sliced shot from John-Lewis on 58 minutes was all that Town could offer in reply. The ubiquitous Bird almost got his hat-trick with a volley on 59 minutes, and the same player had yet another chance three minutes later when Doig was beaten to a long ball. Doig recovered and blocked Bird’s effort to stab the ball over the line from close range. 65 minutes had passed, and Town continued to flounder and lack cohesion. John-Lewis attempted to make things happen by dribbling through the middle before being tripped 20 yards out. Hatton Time loomed. The drama was heightened as a Cambridge player was booked for encroachment. In the end it was all an anti-climax as Hatton scuffed his kick to the nearest defender. Great Scott! Neilson replaced Kerr on 73 minutes. Soon afterwards a Rodman shot was deflected but the corner was terrible.
With opportunities being wasted, possession being lost and Cambridge looking competent and dangerous, Town were struggling to avoid conceding a third goal. This performance had the makings of an irreversible shambles. John-Lewis broke forward on 75 minutes and pushed a neat ball through to Cook but such was the lack of understanding between the pair that Cook was well offside. This was Cook’s last piece of action as he was promptly replaced by Tounkara. The weather had turned cold, windy and inhospitable again. There was an ironic cheer as Cambridge’s goalkeeper finally had something to do, albeit it was akin to catching a beach ball in a jolly kickabout. Thanoj came on for McLaughlin and brightened things up with his green boots but it was Neilson who finally livened up Town’s lacklustre performance, winning a corner, running up the left and getting shots and passes in. Still his team mates showed little enthusiasm to join in. McKeown made a good save to his left to foil Berry on 87 minutes. Cambridge looked like scoring while everything Town did ended in disappointment. Town had a chance as time was running out, but with Tounkara and John-Lewis in the middle, Rodman sliced his cross out of play. Tounkara threw his arms up in frustration. He and John-Lewis were now visible up front and keen to get in the action. The hapless Rodman lost possession when a cross was needed to give Messrs Large and Large a chance. The crowd joined Tounkara in being intensely frustrated. Even the lively Neilson joined in the ineptitude as he floated in a cross from the left into Norris’s arms but with Town pressing at last, there was no doubt that this game had needed Neilson to be on and causing havoc earlier. On 90 minutes Neilson jinked up the left and supplied a cross to Disley whose attempted volley screwed backwards. This summed it all up. Four minutes were added in this Neilson v Cambridge encounter. After another run, a shot resulted in a corner. 93 minutes had passed. Hatton wasted no time in delivering his corner kick from the right. With a packed defence, the ball was placed at the near post for John-Lewis to send in a header. With the left hand post unmarked, the ball looped in slow motion into the right hand corner. Unbelievable. With no time left, this is how it finished: Cambridge United 2, Grimsby Town 1.
We were comprehensively outplayed. We lost the game but not the tie. Suddenly and undeservedly, we had hope for the second leg and a possible trip to Wembley. Until Neilson and Toukara came on, galvanising John-Lewis in the process, the team display was awful. Reliance was placed on McKeown and desperate defending. All Cambridge had to do was perform efficiently. The home team did this and were superior in skill and work rate. Yet as Town’s fans left the ground in disbelief, we were happy. There could only be one way to summarise today: Mostly Cloudy.
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