Mark Bonner is determined for Cambridge United’s defensive resolve to become an intrinsic characteristic of the team this season.
The U’s travel to St James’ Park to face Exeter City this Saturday, targeting a fourth straight clean sheet in Sky Bet League Two, and their fifth of the season in total. Bonner admits United’s sublime early season defensive record is something he and his players are very much proud of, but is strongminded in that it must become a permanent feature.
“Isn’t it good that we have to keep talking about it (the defensive record)!”
“We’re obviously really pleased about it, but I’ve said it a few times this week to the players, we cannot take it for granted. It’s very easy to say ‘yeah another clean sheet’, but the work that goes into keeping a clean sheet and the way you have to power yourself to defend like we have done is not an easy task.
“Keeping consistent clean sheets is tough. We’ve had to defend our box well in all the games, and last weekend against Tranmere was probably the first game where the goalkeeper has to make some really good saves, but that’s what they are there for too.
“We are really pleased with that area of our game, and we want it to be something that becomes a part of us consistently.”
Unsurprisingly given the U’s hot start to the 2020/21 season, the U’s Head Coach has named a virtually unchanged starting eleven so far aside from forced changes through injury. With the likes of Harry Darling returning to fitness and Idris El Mizouni joining the list of fully fit squad members, the competition for places has increased further. However, Bonner says it’s a simple message he has to deliver to those not currently pulling on a starting shirt.
“Nothing! Work hard, get in the team and support the boys that are there because that’s your responsibility as a team mate. Accept the situation, because it is what it is, and keep going.
“The only time I need to tell them anything, is if they are going to play or if their standards are slipping and their attitude isn’t right. That isn’t the case.
“They know over the course of a season, they will all play plenty of football and also they want to be part of something that is successful so they just have to accept that situation and be ready when their games come.”
Finally, looking ahead to this weekend’s clash with the Grecians, Bonner is quick to point out his admiration for the way Exeter have conducted themselves as a Club over recent years. He views this weekend’s trip as an opportunity for the U’s to lay down a marker for how far they have developed in recent months.
Bonner said: “They are a great Club and we’ve spoken about them in the past and the model of playing that they’ve had. They’ve developed assets, sold them on, made money from that, invested in the stadium and the training ground, into their Academy. They’ve brought through players time and time again, and been successful at the same time.
It’s a nice model for Clubs at our level, similar to Crewe, and it’s the kind of Club we can long term aspire to be like. Ultimately first, you have to try and create a winning team. Matt (Taylor) has done a brilliant job there and is consistent in his manner. I’ve got a massive respect for the way he goes about his work, and the fact that he’s had to follow somebody at Exeter who was there for so long. That’s never an easy task but he’s done it really well.
“So we know we’re up against it this weekend, but we rate ourselves at the moment. It’s up to us to prove that if we’ve got belief in ourselves, then we have to back that up with performances.”
WATCH THE GAME WITH EXETER CITY LIVE ON IFOLLOW, WITH A MATCH PASS BY CLICKING HERE. Kick off is at 3:00pm.