D3D4 Cambridge Fan, Patrick Diamond, gives his view on the summer at the Abbey
With the new season just around the corner, Cambridge United look to have significantly strengthened their squad from last season, providing more strength in depth which can hopefully see the club improve on last years efforts, which saw Shaun Derry’s side come agonisingly close to a play-off spot. In hindsight, had they snuck into the play-off’s and achieved promotion, it may have been a season too early for the club, having only been back in the football league for three years, there was still some much-needed development required to take place within the club. Over the summer a clear infrastructure has been put in place behind the scenes, which has led to some top-drawer signings, and should hopefully allow Shaun Derry to focus more on the squad in his new capacity of head coach.
The biggest departure over the summer has got to be that of Will Norris, star goalkeeper for the U’s in recent seasons who left the club for an undisclosed fee, believed to be the biggest fee United have received in 15 years, joining Wolves in the Championship. While at first this seemed a massive blow for Cambridge, the recruitment team acted very swiftly bringing in David Forde, a vastly experienced FL goalkeeper who last season played every game in Pompey’s promotion campaign. While not a long-term prospect like Norris, he brings plenty of experience to the defence and can be counted on to deliver consistency throughout the season, which is what United lacked for large chunks of last season. With no additions to United’s central defence and the recent departure of Josh Coulson to Leyton Orient on loan, a signing at the back looks imminent for the club, with an urgent need to bolster the defensive options, as Leon Legge and Mark Roberts remain the only recognised central defenders in the squad, with any experience of first team football. While Harry Darling looks an exciting prospect for the future, it would be asking too much of him to step up as third choice centre back this year.
As for the rest of the defence, Jake Carroll and Bradley Halliday look to be the clubs starting full back’s, with the latter looking an exciting player for the season ahead off the back of a stellar campaign last year. Regardless of what happens at the end of this season, if Halliday continiues on the upward trajectory he’s found himself on then the club will have their work cut out keeping hold of him. Greg Taylor found himself playing in all possible positions in the defence last year, and is looking likely to continue that role, filling in where needed. As for Leon Davies, this season will be about trying to gain as much experience as possible, which may see him head out on loan at some point.
United’s midfield looks particularly strong this coming season, but despite signing plenty of solid players, they really cannot afford to lose the club’s best player and talisman, Luke Berry. So far, he’s seen four offers come in, but also seen all four turned down by the club who are in no need to sell, however you can’t help but feel that if a side came along with a huge sum and the right offer for all parties, then Berry could well be on his way out of the club, which would be a huge loss for the club after his contribution of 22 goals and 9 assists last season saw him at times carry the side single handed up the table. If he does leave the club this summer, then the perfect candidate to fill his role would be George Maris. Played mostly on the left side of midfield last season, he would be more than capable of scoring plenty of goals if deployed in behind the striker like Berry. United’s wide postitions should be filled by Medy Elito and Piero Mingoia, with both able to deliver good crosses into the box, aswell as chip in with a fair share of goals. The other options are Harrison Dunk for the left side, who is becoming a bit of a stalwart at the club and can always be counted on to deliver a consistent performance, while new signing David Amoo leaves Derry with the option of some serious pace down the right wing if needed.
Liam O’Neil received plenty of criticism for his performances last season after joining the club in January, but during pre-season he and new signing Gary Deegan, signed from Shrewsbury, have forged a solid partnership cementing the defensive midfield, with Deegan showing an aggressive attitude, getting stuck into challenges which is sure to see him become a favourite with the Newmarket Road End. Emmanuel Osadebe, signed from Gillingham looks a very raw talent, but under the tutelage of Derry could become a top player, if he improves his attitude, which supposedly hindered his development at Gillingham.
Finally, we come to United’s attacking options. If Derry opts to stick to last year’s tactics, often we will be lining up with a lone striker, which you’d expect to be the fan favourite Uche Ikpeazu, who can continue to terrorize league two defenders. His sheer size and power makes him an incredibly difficult proposition to defend, and he made a huge impact upon arrival last summer, but he does need to improve upon his mediocre tally of 8 goals of last season. The only downside to Ikpeazu is that last season the U’s became very one dimensional, just hoofing the ball upfield to the big man, which is perhaps why Derry has signed Ade Azeez, from Partick Thistle to offer a different attacking threat upfront, aswell as signing experienced striker Jabo Ibhere from league rival Carlisle, who can offer guaranteed goals, which is what Cambridge really lacked last season.
With the singings Cambridge have made already and assuming they can bring in another experienced central defender, then the U’s can be expected to mount a serious challenge for the play-off places, and perhaps even sneak into the automatic spots should they become more consistent throughout the season. One thing is for sure though, that is if they can’t get up this year, then they will almost certainly see a lot of their exciting young players like Berry, Halliday and Ikpeazu leave at the end of the season, which means if they fail to achieve promotion this year, then they may well be waiting for a good while longer.
words Patrick Diamond