Cambridge United take on fellow relegation battlers Accrington Stanley in Saturday’s crucial Sky Bet League One tie at the Wham Stadium...
Mark Bonner’s men approach the make-or-break final week of the 2022/23 campaign in 23rd position, with the hosts a place and point ahead in the tightly-contested drop zone. With three points proving invaluable and a loss potentially being detrimental, a pulsating afternoon awaits in the fight for survival.
How to Watch
The U’s have a full allocation of 805, with well over 600 tickets already sold ahead of Saturday’s encounter in Lancashire, which kicks off at 3:00pm. Supporters who wish to join them on the trip can secure their place online at cufctickets.com, over the phone by calling 01223 566500 or by visiting the Abbey Stadium Ticket Office - four away credits will be issued.
Overseas fans can stream the game live with an iFollow Match Pass. Match Passes cost £10 and are available to purchase by clicking here. Elsewhere, domestic supporters who can’t make it to the Wham Stadium can listen to live match commentary on iFollow, as well as receive match updates on the day through United’s social media channels.
A prime example of how to run a lower league football club, Accrington Stanley continue to defy the odds and punch above their weight. Excellent backing and sensible decisions off the pitch has contributed to great success on it in the past couple of decades, with the current incarnation of the club plying their trade in the Northern Premier League Division One as recently as the turn of the millennium. Under the tutelage of the astute John Coleman, the hosts are in their fifth season in League One and, although a best-ever finish of 11th will not be bettered in 2022/23, a last-gasp escape would do just fine. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve defied the odds.
Starting in a hard-to-beat manner, Accrington remained unbeaten in their opening five. On the contrary, it eventually equated to one win in eight due to four occasions where they shared the spoils. An astute September run of three consecutive triumphs increased optimism and cemented their place in the top 10, but a slide occurred, losing five on the trot and conceding 15 in the process – their only win between early October to mid-January came against United. The most promising form of 2022/23 fell a couple of months back when they lost the solitary time in six, but a turgid rut of eight defeats in nine recently forced them to the brink of relegation. Against the odds, a critical 0-1 win at promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers in midweek gives the side in 22nd hope – but a further loss either against the U’s or Oxford United could be fatal.
Equipped with a dogged 4-2-3-1 approach as well as the sporadic tinkering of three-at-the-back, Stanley have both a bulk of experience on top of some youthful essence. Burnley loanee Lukas Jensen’s nine clean sheets could prove crucial, the smart shot stopper should have knowledgeable 34-year-old Michael Nottingham ahead of him, who marshals the indispensable Harvey Rodgers and progressive Doug Tharme. Long-serving Seamus Conneely wears his heart on his sleeve and always adds tenacity for fellow midfielder Ethan Hamilton, who’s popped up with four league strikes. Star man Sean McConville is an integral component, he’s creeping closer to his 450th appearance in red – the game changer will look to link up with the accomplished Shaun Whalley, Scotland forward Aaron Pressley and former U Matt Lowe, who awaits his first goal in League One.
Accrington Stanley: LLLLW
Cambridge United: WDWLL
Despite succumbing to back-to-back defeats last weekend after being overpowered 3-1 at title-chasing Plymouth Argyle, United still have absolutely everything to fight for heading into a monumental week.
Under the cosh from the get go after Callum Wright laced home an early opener, the visitors battled valiantly to level proceedings heading into the break thanks to the on-song Sam Smith. Although the men in blue arguably edged the first 45, the blistering Pilgrims roared ahead via Joe Edwards and Niall Ennis to seal the encounter.
Reflecting on the performance levels, the Head Coach said, “The players have worked their socks off. It was always going to be a tough game when it was game three at the end of this week - probably the toughest one at the end… we lost to a really good side today."
Due to fellow relegation rivals Oxford United and Stanley claiming morale-boosting victories in midweek, United slip to 23rd in the table with a game in hand. Four points from 19th, wins will be needed over the next week if the U’s want to extend their third tier adventure for a third season. Playing against opponents in-and-around them and finding their goalscoring touch at the perfect time, the group approach the final hurdle with hunger.
Highlighting the significance of the season-defining set of three, Bonner stated in his pre-match press conference that, "We’ve got to this position and now it’s down to us to win games to get across the line. Whether it’s two, three wins we need, who knows? But certainly we’ve got to try to start that on Saturday with a really positive result to set us up for the final two.
"The situation is still the same – if we win our games we’ll be alright. That’s a tough task in itself. To win the next game is going to be a really tough task. To win two of three is going to be a really tough task, but in some senses, yes it is in our hands."
In regards to team news for Saturday, Lloyd Jones i not ruled out – Bonner is hopeful the defender will recover from a groin injury to feature as soon as possible. Elsewhere, full-back George Williams is unlikely to play again this season owing due to a knee problem.
Accrington Stanley Wins: 7
Cambridge United Wins: 3
Down Memory Lane
The last time we met, Stanley stole the points with a tight 0-1 success on a November afternoon with very little action at the Abbey Stadium.
Despite going into the encounter winless in seven, the visitors claimed maximum points thanks to Harvey Rodgers’ close-range conversion on the stroke of half-time to cancel out the U’s hopes of a fourth successive clean sheet.
Speaking to the press after the whistle, Bonner admitted: "The game wasn't a good game, I thought it was a really poor level, probably signified by the goal we concede, which makes the second half a lot more difficult. We've got to do some work there and make sure we improve, because at the minute, we're a team that's finding it very hard."
Analysing the recent trends, United have failed taste victory at the Wham Stadium in their six attempts – losing five and drawing on one occasion back in April 2016. Since 2017, Coleman’s men have impressively kept four clean sheets, with the U’s only triumph in that time coming last season when Smith and Wes Hoolahan rose the team up to 14th.
Referee: Rebecca Welch
Assistant Referee: Mark Cunliffe
Assistant Referee: Gary Hilton
Fourth Official: Richard Bartlett