The Abbey Stadium hosts its first Sky Bet League One encounter of 2023 on Saturday afternoon as Cambridge United welcome newcomers to the division, Bristol Rovers...
In the midst of a dogfight near the relegation zone, it’s another crucial game for Mark Bonner’s men - who have won one in eight, but have recently shown encouraging signs on home soil. In Joey Barton’s Pirates, they host a top-half side who have proven an exciting watch and are out to register back-to-back wins.
How to Watch
Saturday afternoon’s clash kicks off at 3pm, with tickets available for fans to buy online at cufctickets.com – another healthy home crowd is anticipated, with the Main Stand in particular selling quick, so please secure your place in advance.
By doing this, you can save money as all prices increase by £2 when buying in-person on the day of the game.
Overseas fans can stream the game live with an iFollow Match Pass. Match Passes cost £10 and are available to purchase by clicking here. Elsewhere, domestic supporters who can’t make it to the Abbey can listen to live match commentary on iFollow.
Formed in 1883, Rovers became members of the Football League in the 1920s and, bar one campaign, have not looked back since. The three-time FA Cup quarter-finalists have fluctuated since the turn of the millennium, but have a tendency to bounce back from setbacks – four promotions have been won since 2006/07, including back-to-back triumphs in 2015 and 2016. In their sixth season in League one in seven years, they’re understandably familiar with their surroundings and have already proven that this is where they belong.
Under the guidance of Barton, a demanding figure who gets the best out of his players, they needed a bit of time to build up steam, enduring a tricky opening couple of months. They did respond from an opening day defeat to Forest Green Rovers by dispatching Burton Albion 0-4 and Oxford United 1-0.
They would have to wait just under two months for their next victory, losing five of their next eight but nicking a point against Shrewsbury Town, Morecambe and Exeter City. A clinical 2-1 success against the U’s in October kickstarted an impressive five-match unbeaten run, which included a share of the spoils with strong-starters Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday.
Since November, Rovers have lost two in eight, attaining 14 points in the process. Last time out, they bounced back from successive Christmas defeats by overcoming Cheltenham Town 2-1 at the Mem. The side have proven an exciting watch – their 25 games has dished up 82 goals overall and they are lodged in an impressive 11th, with six points separating them from the play-offs.
After previously stating that no player’s position in the squad is safe going into the January transfer window, the Pirates’ XI may look rather different come the end of the month, with Barton striving to always improve. Striker Aaron Collins is undoubtedly the anomaly, he’s popped up with 13 goals and ten assists in his opening 25 and is linking up well with promising loanee Josh Coburn, who’s bagged eight for himself.
Well-known Scott Sinclair boasts a plethora of experience and quality, the fans will be hoping his current deal, which runs out imminently, is extended. In a very youthful three-man defence, Burnley loanee Bobby Thomas has popped up with goals and been stubborn, with midfielder Sam Finley protecting well and the progressive James Belshaw making a strong transition to this level between the sticks.
Cambridge United: LDWLL
Bristol Rovers: WWLLW
The U’s approach the meeting off the back of a 5-0 defeat against title-chasing Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough – the group know an instant response will be invaluable.
Starting on the front foot and concluding in control, the Owls cruised to the win thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Windass and further finishes from Michael Smith and Liam Palmer. A demanding place to visit, one loss in 13, and against a team who have lost once since mid-September, a strenuous 90 minutes was always going to be in store – the depleted side struggled to keep pace and were restricted to very few chances.
Reflecting on the afternoon, Bonner admitted, “It was horrible for everybody to play, watch and to be part of, because you just know that it was just a mismatch really… we didn’t have enough physically to cope with them. They’re incredibly strong, I think stronger than last year physically very dominant and athletic.”
Holding onto 19th position, the gap reads two points from the relegation zone and now just four from the basement following recent back-to-back wins for Burton Albion and Morecambe. Successive losses have dented United’s goal difference, which is worsened only by Forest Green Rovers. Nonetheless, five points separates 13th to their current position, so there’s all to play for in the dogfight.
Playing at the Abbey may put the U’s in good stead – they’ve lost once in their previous four, picking up five points in that time and putting in some really gritty performances against Bolton Wanderers, Plymouth Argyle and Shrewsbury Town. In truth, they had deserved more from the two stalemates picked up. The backing of the amber army will be integral in the coming weeks.
In terms of team news for the weekend, George Williams was back in training following an illness, whereas Ben Worman has made good recovery from his ankle injury - both could be options for selection, with the former looking more likely to return. Elsewhere, Fejiri Okenabirhie and Brandon Haunstrup are stepping up their rehab, the end of the month is a potential return date. The pair are ahead of Dimitar Mitov and Liam O’Neil, who the boss couldn’t give an exact date on yet, although hoped it was in the February region.
Regarding the transfer market, Mark admitted that potential signings ahead of Saturday is unlikely, but the U’s are adamant to add to the squad early next week.
Cambridge United Wins: 7
Bristol Rovers Wins: 21
Down Memory Lane
Last time out, the U’s fell to a 2-1 victory against an out-of-form Rovers in early October to extend their losing streak to three games and hand the Gas their first win in nine attempts.
The hosts capitalised on a bright start, forcing an own goal, but the U’s equalised through Joe Ironside’s penalty and had the momentum on their side, but they couldn’t take their chances and were undone by Josh Coburn’s winner.
Analysing the defeat, United’s Head Coach mentioned: “You’d have definitely taken 1-1 going into the break after the first 20 minutes, but after 90 minutes to come away losing is a kick in the wotsits.”
Unable to take anything from the Pirates in their last four meetings, the U’s are out to secure a first victory since October 2004 when a League Two matchup in CB5 was decided by 18-year-old John Turner’s finish moments into the second period. The line-up that day: Ruddy, Gleeson, Goodhind, Duncan, Tann, Nichols, Walker, Mbome, El Kholti, Turner, Chillingworth.
Referee: Thomas Parsons
Assistant Referee: Ian Smedley
Assistant Referee: Scott Williams
Fourth Official: Leigh Crowhurst