“We’ll be better as a team and a squad for tonight…”
Mark Bonner was beaming with pride at his side’s character and application as the U’s exited the Carabao Cup at the hands of an awe-inspiring Southampton.
“I’m happy with the scoreline to be honest, they (the Saints) were brilliant. When you play the top teams, you’ve got to be at your very best. I’ve just said to the players in there that tonight would be a waste of time if we haven’t learnt something from them. Top, top players playing at the top level.
“For all of us, a brilliant experience to play against and see that live. We had to work so hard to stay in the game… but that’s just a consequence of playing against really good players.”
After singling out goalkeeper Will Mannion, who “had a brilliant game and made some great saves”, the Head Coach was quick to reflect on the positives to take – for the U’s did have small spells where their tails were up.
“We finished both halves with a little flurry of moments and chances and there’s just hope that we can convert something to try and change the momentum of the game a little bit.
“But we were never able to sustain those moments for long enough and as a consequence we end up defending the goal and the box so often because the speed in which they turn the game over from defence to attack was excellent – it’s tough to deal with.
“We want to be a top counter-attacking team so there’s a lot we can learn from them tonight. I’m really pleased with our lads for the effort they’ve put into the game.”
What was arguably the most important aspect from the cup clash was the injection of minutes to those who have found opportunities limited of late.
“We’ve made a lot of changes, we’ve got boys who haven’t played in there since the Millwall game so to go and step in and play that game tonight is a pretty big ask – but we’ll be better as a team and a squad for tonight for sure.
“We’ve managed to get lots of players football and tried to get as much out of tonight as we can.”
For the majority of the encounter, the Saints weren’t home and dry. After continuing to plug away, the U’s certainly put their name out there despite not being able to teeter Alex McCarthy’s goal.
“You can feel really gutted about the result and how tough it was, but when you step back and just respect the opposition and the level we’ve played against, there’s loads you can take from it for a team that’s aspiring to do better.”
The U’s may be out, but their desire lives on. That will undoubtedly take them far as the season progresses.