Tom Walker takes a look, for D3D4 Football, at how Cambridge fared in the pre-season friendlies with their new look team…
Our signings this season have been a really interesting, if unspectacular mix. We’ve recruited players in most of the necessary areas, although at time of writing we do lack a mobile centre-back who is more comfortable on the ball than the options currently available to us. Our most notable additions have been the signings of David Forde from Millwall (spent 16/17 on loan at eventual champions Portsmouth), Gary Deegan from League One Shrewsbury Town, and veteran striker and fans favourite Jabo Ibehre from Carlisle.
Pace and power has been added in forward areas with the signings of David Amoo and Ade Azeez, both coming across the border from Partick Thistle on a free transfer, and for an undisclosed fee respectively. Young, prospective players have been brought in, in the form of striker Jevani Brown from St Neots Town, who had a trial with Championship side Birmingham City during last season, and goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov, a Bulgarian youth international who will provide competition to the aforementioned, and older, more experienced David Forde.
The quality of the players brought in has been slightly underwhelming in my opinion, something which will be shared by many fans, as we’ve really lacked a marquee, top quality signing who would walk into the starting XIs of the Lutons, the Coventrys or the Mansfields of the division.
Our pre-season schedule was ‘more of the same’, showing many of the signs of what made us a good side last year, but also the parts of our game which let us down in terms of our overall position in the table. Although I tend not to read too much into pre-season results and performances, the difficulty we seem to be having in finding the back of the net, especially against opposition from the Conference or below, is definitely a worry.
We began pre-season with a last gasp Jabo Ibehre winner on his ‘debut’ for the club securing 1-0 victory against Southern Premier Division side St Neots Town (who we would later poach Jevani Brown from), in an unconvincing performance, presumably more a test of fitness than anything else. Another 1-0 victory followed at St. Albans, with talisman Luke Berry deciding things this time. We found our scoring boots in our next friendly at local side Royston Town, with a brace from big man Uche Ikpeazu, and goals from young talents Paul Lewis and George Maris coming in a comfortable 4-1 victory against ‘the Crows’.
Our first real ‘test’ came in our first friendly at the Abbey Stadium, in an interesting 120 minute game, contested in four quarters of half an hour each rather than the more traditional 90 minute match. Again, this provided an innovative way of getting minutes into the players legs, and also ‘treating’ the fans to an extra half an hour of football. ‘Treating’, is probably an over statement, as we lost 2-0 to a Norwich side with varying strength, including the likes of Cameron Jerome, Steven Naismith and Josh Murphy lining up alongside a host of younger players.
A stalemate with Ebbsfleet United followed, before a testimonial match celebrating Cambridge-born Josh Coulson’s years of service to the club, a time which has (so far) included numerous visits to Wembley, promotion back to the Football League, lifting the FA Trophy, scoring the club’s first Football League goal in nine years and a cup run culminating in a trip to a ground called Old Trafford to play against a team called Manchester United.
The match resulted in an entertaining, although perhaps slightly worrying 3-2 loss against an extremely youthful Spurs XI, with Luke Berry and Uche Ikpeazu on the scoresheet. However, this was the embodiment of a pre-season friendly, which really couldn’t have been less about the result.
We rounded off our pre-season schedule with a 1-1 draw at Dartford, with (the now transfer-listed) Adam McGurk returning from the cold to salvage a draw away at regional league opposition, followed by an extremely disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Phil Brown’s exciting Southend side, in a match dedicated to U’s fan Simon Dobbin, who continues to recover from a horrific incident at a reverse fixture way back in 2015.
All in all, pre-season hasn’t really indicated any signs of improvement, for me. We still lack the ability to put the ball in the net, which seems to be down to the fact we still don’t have a striker in the mould of the recently departed Barry Corr who you can rely on for 20+ goals a season. Our reasonable solidity at the back is a bonus, as a side who doesn’t score many, you can’t afford to be too open at the other end, either. The signing of vastly experienced, ex-international and recent League Two champion David Forde to replace the Wolves bound Will Norris looks to be a very astute signing in goals.
The season ahead:
I fear a season of mid-table mediocrity, with glimpses of a challenge for the play-offs awaits us, although, after nine years in the abyss of non-league, this may be seen by some as not such a bad thing. I feel we have more than enough to pretty much extinguish any fears of dropping back down the National League (although a similar start to last season, which saw us bottom heading into October) may have some biting their nails.
I think we may just fall short of our overall objective, which would be to cement a top seven finish, purely because of our lack of goal-scoring potency. The signing of Jabo Ibehre may help to address this, although we are still too reliant on the goals from Luke Berry, and with much speculation surrounding his future in CB5, that is a very risky game indeed. Having said that, this year’s league is a weaker one, having lost the likes of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Doncaster with all of their financial power, and replaced them with, on the whole, smaller clubs who will likely pose less of a threat at the right end of the table.
A perhaps unwelcome distraction so close to the season is speculation linking manager Shaun Derry with the vacant manager’s job at Hearts up in Scotland. Although this news would be welcomed by many of our fans, with our fan-base seemingly completely divided on whether or not the former QPR and Palace man could be the manager to take us to the next level, I would see it as a real shame to lose a manager who has shown promise in his tenure at the club, which has so far been just shy of two years.
Overall, I remain unconvinced that we’ve got the strength or the depth to compete with the big hitters in this league, but if we can keep Luke Berry, unknown quantities such as Jevani Brown and Emmanuel Osadebe can add some energy to the team, and additions to our forward line can add some potency in front of goal, there is no reason we couldn’t achieve a play-off finish.
words Tom Walker