Cambridge United are looking to return to winning ways on Saturday afternoon when they make the trip to Pride Park Stadium to take on Derby County in their latest Sky Bet League One tussle...
Both making steady steps in the right direction, the hosts and the U’s sit 9th and 10th respectively and are level on points following mirroring starts. Mark Bonner’s group are determined to secure a first victory in three and in the process stop the Rams from stretching their unbeaten run to three games.
How to Watch
Over 1,100 of the amber nation will touch down in Derbyshire for Saturday’s match, which gets underway at 3pm. U’s fans who wish to join them must note that this is an all-ticket fixture with no sales on the day.
After beginning life in 1884, the Rams famously became one of the 12 founding members of the Football League four years later. The 1946 FA Cup winners became the pinnacle of England when they secured the Division One title in 1972 and 1975 in what was undoubtedly the glory years. In the last two decades, Derby have spent the solitary campaign in the Premier League. It was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons nonetheless, as they registered 32 matches without a win – breaking the unwanted U’s record of 31. 14 campaigns in the Championship followed, which concluded in the side bowing out after real adversity in 2022. Whilst they were down, they were certainly not out, as they clawed a ranking of 7th last season. The task now is to undoubtedly go one better.
That’s certainly possible with the calibre in their ranks. Third tier specialist Paul Warne deploys a 3-5-2 with Joe Wildsmith between the sticks and the promising Eiran Cashin ahead of him, who at 21 is experienced and has a bright future. He’s been aided with the plethora of experience next to him, such as Curtis Nelson, Sonny Bradley or 34-year-old Craig Forsyth. Former Hull City winger Callum Elder, powerhouse Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Academy graduate Louie Sibley don the flanks, whilst Korey Smith and Tyrese Fornah pull the strings in the centre of the park. In the final third, Martyn Waghorn and James Collins have popped up with nine league goals between them and are a menacing duo, with Conor Washington another battering ram who makes an impact from the bench.
Kicking things off with a battle of the giants, Wigan Athletic gained a 1-2 opening day victory, but the Rams were ruthless in their next outing when they dispatched Burton Albion 0-3. Oxford United forced them to a second defeat, but it handed Warne the fuel to register consecutive wins, first against Fleetwood Town – their only home win from four – and then at Peterborough United with a 2-4 thriller. Promotion favourites Bolton Wanderers terminated the run in early September, but since then Derby have battled to a point apiece against Portsmouth and dispatched Carlisle United 0-2 thanks to Collins’ brace. With one loss in five, the seeds look to have been sown.
Derby County: WLDWW
Cambridge United: LWLLD
The U’s are looking to continue their competitive performance levels and build on the point they attained last weekend when high-flying Port Vale came away from the Abbey with a share of the spoils.
As has been the case throughout the opening months, the substitutions changed the game for Bonner’s men after rolling the dice on the hour mark owing to a resilient opposition, who had executed their game plan well after leading through Ben Garrity. From the get go, United knocked on the door and equalised through Fejiri Okenabirhie’s astute header, but couldn’t steal the points at the death as the striker was denied from the spot.
Bonner’s assessment of the afternoon was: “We have to respect points – we didn’t get enough draws last year. It can end runs when you’ve had a defeat, you need to get back to adding to your tally so I’m really pleased to take something from the game… we’re disappointed it wasn’t three because of how it ended but it’s probably fair. It was a good game.”
All in all, a highly impressive start which reads at 13 points, an excellent safety net from the lower echelons and just three points away from 5th with a game in hand. Only two sides have conceded less – Portsmouth and Stevenage – whereas they’ve scored in seven of their opening eight. Boasting plenty of players at their disposal who have the resources to change a game, United have got their secret weapon and want to keep utilising it.
Bonner on a tight schedule: “This is probably the start point of a fairly busy spell for us. October has got eight games in it and this is a really good one to look forward to to kick it all off.”
Bonner on the Rams: “Amazing stadium, amazing atmosphere when we played there last year over Christmas, and we’ll have some brilliant support behind us. It’s certainly one of those games that you’re really excited about and look forward to… The league table hasn’t taken shape yet, it’s an individual game that we’ve just got to go and give a really good account of ourselves in.”
Bonner on rotation: “All the lads know that their times will come - there will be plenty of opportunities for players to start games. You’ve only got to look at Saturday to Tuesday, there will be different teams and changes between these two games coming up.”
United will be without the services of Harrison Dunk for the remainder of 2023 after he recently underwent an operation on his knee. Elsewhere, no other knocks have been picked up, with Jack Stevens, Brandon Haunstrup and Jordan Cousins all with an outside chance of being available for Saturday. Also edging closer to a return, Saikou Janneh joined full training on Thursday.
Derby County Wins: 11
Cambridge United Wins: 3
Down Memory Lane
The last time we met – and in their first ever trip to this weekend’s venue – the U’s left empty-handed after concluding 2022 with a 1-0 defeat in a testing encounter.
Despite keeping compact and holding their own, the U’s were carved open on the hour mark, with the Rams’ pressure paying off after Lewis Dobbin guided a header home from close range to inflict a first defeat in three for the visitors – who would go on to win one of their following 15.
Breaking down his group’s display, the boss said: “It was such a shift from our lads, unbelievable really. It’s tough for us at the minute as we’re just lacking bodies… But I’ve got to say the effort level tonight was unreal.”
The form guide against Derby doesn’t make for the prettiest reading, with the U’s only ever recording one away win – that being a 0-3 triumph at the Baseball Ground in November 1980. In the 17 clashes since, just one success has been garnered, which was back in a 1989 League Cup clash thanks to goals from Phil Chapple and Martin Robinson. County have also kept six clean sheets in seven, but the visitors are determined to rip up the history book.
Referee: Ollie Yates
Assistant Referee: Grant Taylor
Assistant Referee: Ollie Williams
Fourth Official: Conor Brown