Cambridge United are eyeing up the prospect of extending their unbeaten run to three Sky Bet League One games on Tuesday evening when Barnsley visit the Abbey Stadium.
The encounter under the lights is poised well, with the U’s - who have lost just once from five at home and boast the joint-best defence in the league - welcome a Tykes side who are the leading scorers of the division and are unbeaten away from home.
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Established in 1887, Barnsley wasted no time in achieving success. Joining the Football League in 1898, the side originally struggled in Division Two, but used their FA Cup success in 1912 to cement themselves. Post-war, they fluctuated between the Third and Fourth Division, but built their way up and gate-crashed the Premier League for a single season in 1997/98. Most recently, they’ve pulled off the Championship ‘great escape’, went close to returning to the top tier with a promotion tilt, succumbed to League One football and then just last season experienced the agony of a last-gasp play-off final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. The Tykes now aim to cap off a topsy-turvy era by going one better.
The man deployed to replace Duff was Tampa Bay Rowdies gaffer Neill Collins, who was vastly experienced in the Football League as a player. Lining up with his favoured 3-1-4-2, Middlesbrough loanee Liam Roberts orchestrates between the sticks and ensures a back three of Jordan Williams, Jamie McCart and Mael de Gevigney stay compact – who will have to make do without influential Polish centre-back Kacper Lopata. Herbie Kane or Jonathan Russell usually sit in the integral deep role with Hungarian international Callum Styles and Adam Phillips controlling the game. Barry Cotter, Nicky Cadden and Corey O’Keeffe are the ones adding creativity from out wide, with Max Watters, John McAtee or Devante Cole – the division’s top goalscorer with nine in ten – usually at the end of them.
Stamping authority from the get go, Barnsley steamrolled Port Vale 7-0 on the opening day, but went winless in their next three after sharing a 1-1 tie with Bristol Rovers and falling to 1-3 defeats at Peterborough United and Oxford United. Flipping the form, they gained three consecutive triumphs and clean sheets from here, dispatching Wigan Athletic, Cheltenham Town and Burton Albion, but most recently have lost to Portsmouth and Blackpool in slender fashion either side of a 1-2 win at Northampton Town. Their endeavours ranks them in 7th, with two points separating them from 3rd – a steady start, but they’ll be hungry to add further consistency from here.
Cambridge United: WLLDD
The U’s return to home soil with the spring in their step and the belief that they can go toe to toe with anyone in the division after returning home from Derby County with a valiant 0-0 draw at an atmospheric Pride Park.
A defensive performance packed with grit and determination saw the visitors force a stalemate after standing up to waves of pressure, clearing their lines continuously and, to a man, remaining committed to see out a hard-fought point.
Proud of the display, Mark Bonner stated: “That’s the hardest we’ve had to work for a clean sheet… It’s a massive point on a day that is really tricky. We worked our socks off and in the end we’re absolutely thrilled with the point we’ve taken.”
A strong defence is the foundation of a strong team – and the team have taken great pride by that as they registered their fifth clean sheet from their opening nine games. Last season, it took them 27 attempts to record that feat. Shipping just seven, no side have surrendered less in the division, so there’s plenty to be encouraged by. Sitting in 13th, the table remains compact, with a three-point gap from 4th – the chase is on for the early underdogs.
In regards to team news, a possible hamstring issue forced Elias Kachunga off on Saturday so he will need to be assessed alongside Sullay Kaikai, who was absent from the squad owing to a tight groin. Fellow winger Saikou Janneh has returned to training and is creeping closer to a return. For further information, be sure to check out the Head Coach’s pre-match press conference, which will be distributed to social media on Monday afternoon.
Cambridge United Wins: 5
Barnsley Wins: 11
Down Memory Lane
Against all odds, the sides meet again in the third tier despite both going within one game of being two divisions apart following contrasting conclusions to the 2022/23 season. It looked to be heading that way during the February meeting, which saw the ten-man Tykes secure a comfortable 2-0 victory.
An early strike from Watters gave the U’s work to do, but they received a lifeline before the break when the goalscorer received his marching orders for an elbow. Despite the man advantage, a spectacular attempt from Williams on the hour mark gave the hosts lead they would not surrender as they retained their top six berth and succumbed United to their seventh game without a win.
Assessing the defeat, Bonner acknowledged: “We didn’t create as much as we wanted to and the second goal makes it a really hard game for us to chase, but having said that we had some good chances in the game and if at any moment we take one of them it’s a different game.”
Barnsley’s double stretched their winning run to four games against United, which is stretched all the way back to 1992. The solitary U’s victory in the past eight was certainly a memorable one in what was a rollercoaster Division Two campaign after late goals from Steve Claridge and Dion Dublin wrapped up a 2-1 win at the Abbey and boost hopes of the unlikely climb towards the inaugural Premier League campaign.
Referee: Ben Toner
Assistant Referee: Damith Bandara
Assistant Referee: Marc Wilson
Fourth Official: Declan Ford