Cambridge United look to continue their ascension up the Sky Bet League One ladder on Saturday afternoon as they make the trip to the DW Stadium to take on Wigan Athletic...
Highly impressive early-season form sees Mark Bonner’s men boast a ranking in the play-offs – their aim now is to preserve that by securing consecutive victories. In their way, a newly-relegated Latics side who have pedigree in the third tier and are desperate to respond from back-to-back defeats suffered prior to the international break.
How to Watch
Approximately 400 U’s fans have already secured their place for Saturday’s tie in Greater Manchester, which kicks off at 3pm. Tickets are priced at £20 for adults and £15 for concessions, with under 18s £10 and under £12’s just £5. Online bookings end at 9pm on Thursday, with four away credits issued to supporters.
Formed in 1932, the Tics plied their trade in non-league until 1978, where they finally broke into the Football League – from there, the only way was up. Enjoying a slow descent, the two-time EFL Trophy winners broke into the second tier in 2003 and, just two years later, were celebrating promotion to the Premier League for the first time following a 2nd-place finish. There, they stayed for a total of eight seasons, with 10th their best recording. In spite of relegation in 2013, they won the FA Cup with a memorable success against Manchester City, which secured a Europa League adventure whilst in the Championship. A yo-yo side since, Wigan hunt solidity - Shaun Maloney could be the first step towards that. Since his January arrival, the former winger has galvanized the club by drastically shoring up the defence - and with many shooting through the pecking order and some experienced heads providing the know-how, the hope is to put their troubles behind them and start a new revolution.
Adopting a tricky 4-2-3-1 formation, the Latics should deploy 21-year-old Sam Tickle between the sticks, with Bayern Munich and Newcastle United loanees Liam Morrison and Kelland Watts just ahead of him – the latter is a popular figure and is calm engineering attacks. On the left, Tom Pearce is a creative plug and already sits on three assists. In the middle, Babajide Adeeko is breaking through well, while former Arsenal man Matthew Smith is looking to kickstart his ascendency back up the ladder. Stephen Humphrys and cult hero Callum McManaman know the club inside out and have the quality to change a game, they’ll link up with Callum Lang – averaging a goal every four games since his January 2021 switch – who too will feed Charlie Wyke, a prolific forward who can bully an opponent and is already on five for the season.
Despite starting with an eight-point disadvantage, Maloney’s men picked up steam from the get go with an excellent opening day success against promotion candidates Derby County, before picking up another 2-1 win thanks to a late comeback at home to Northampton Town. A Wyke strike helped share the spoils against newcomers Carlisle United three days later, before they climbed out of the relegation zone with a 0-4 humbling of Bolton Wanderers. The tricky schedule continued, with Barnsley putting Wigan to the sword and then Blackpool claimed a last-gasp 2-1 triumph last time out – forcing them to sit in 20th with a current ten-point gap from the play-offs, which still undoubtedly is the aim for the talented group.
Wigan Athletic: WDWLL
Cambridge United: LWLWL
For the second time this season, the U’s are presented with the chance to secure consecutive wins in League One – which would be the perfect response to their midweek 2-0 defeat to Cambridgeshire foes Peterborough United in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Handing out valuable minutes for those vying to break into the XI, eight changes were made – with Liam Bennett now the only player in the squad to start every single fixture – but United couldn’t claim the bragging rights and take their chances as Jadel Katongo and Ephron Mason-Clark converted either side of the break.
Examining the defeat, the boss said: “A bit disappointed in that sense because we want to progress in the competition - two wins can do that. Hopefully we can win the next two.”
With attention now focused towards the league campaign, momentum is high in the camp following a remarkable start of four wins and four clean sheets from six. A solid defensive foundation has set the tone – in comparison, it took the U’s 16 games to secure four shutouts in 2021/22 and then 21 last campaign. With eight plundered at the other side, the attacking threat is pleasing on the eye, as a fluid counter approach and convenient options from the bench has helped steer the side to 12 well-earned points. United are ticking along in astute fashion.
Bonner on penning a long-term contract: “I’m really proud of being able to stay longer and extend my time here, but also grateful for the opportunity to do that and also the respect and trust that the owners and the board have given me in order to continue this project.”
Bonner on the development since 2020: “I think the long-term plan has been something we set out three years ago, and this is just a continuation of that work. We went faster than we thought in the early part, but you’re constantly re-evaluating and reassessing what’s possible… Building a club that’s really sustainable at this level is key, but we don’t want to limit our ambitions on that either.”
Bonner on the Latics: “I think Shaun has done a great job since the summer to keep many of the squad together, to add the right players and build a team that’s playing in a really good style. Obviously the league position is false… they’ll be a strong team at the top end of the league, there’s no doubt.”
The Head Coach stated that availability for the weekend is the same as it had been before, whilst also sharing the good news that Jack Stevens and Brandon Haunstrup are potentially just a week away from returning to training, with Jordan Cousins and Saikou Janneh also progressing well and aiming to join back up with the group by the end of the month.
Wigan Athletic Wins: 5
Cambridge United Wins: 3
Down Memory Lane
A scintillating performance on the road - and in front of the cameras - saw the U’s claim a 1-2 triumph against the division leaders in our last meeting back in April 2022.
A first-class and enterprising opening half saw the visitors gain a commanding position thanks to delightful finishes from Harvey Knibbs and Sam Smith. Although Tom Naylor conjured up a consolation in the latter stages, valiant defending at the death saw the U’s hold out for their fourth win from five.
Beaming with pride after the game, Bonner stated: “It’s a super result for us, I’m so proud of that performance and some of the individuals have been different class. I think about some of the big away days we’ve had in the biggest stadiums or the biggest occasions and we’ve showed up.”
The victory tarnished a 10-match winless run against the Tics, which had stretched back to 1995. However, it could perhaps be the fuel to spark a strong streak following an entertaining 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture of the 2021/22 season. On top of that, from the 16 meetings since October 1984, United have scored in every single one – which is a record they’ll certainly be eager to preserve.
Referee: Adam Herczeg
Assistant Referee: Simon Clayton
Assistant Referee: Lee Freeman
Fourth Official: Bradley Hall