Cambridge United embark upon 2023 with a trip to Hillsborough as they take on promotion-chasing Sheffield Wednesday in another important Sky Bet League One tie...
Despite injuries and illness tormenting the group during a testing December, Mark Bonner’s side have remained spirited throughout and are looking to make an immediate return to winning ways. Standing in their way, an Owls outfit formidable at home and enjoying a 12-match unbeaten run as their promotion credentials continue to strengthen.
How to Watch
Just under 600 tickets have been snatched up ahead of the tie in Sheffield, which kicks off at 3pm. Although advance sales have now expired, tickets will be available on the day for U’s fans, with plenty available.
The third oldest club in the Football League has a rich history behind them – four First Division titles, three FA Cups, a Community Shield and League Cup stand proudly in their trophy cabinet. Buoyed by a passionate fanbase, they deem now the perfect time to create more memories. The Owls entered their League One era under Darren Moore, who managed to implement consistent results throughout 2022, with the side falling just short of an immediate promotion as Sunderland edged them out in last season’s play-offs. Seemingly well-equipped this time around, the aim is to go one better and climb up the Football League once more.
So far, so good. With 49 points to their name, the hosts are ticking along nicely. Following a dramatic 3-3 season opener against Portsmouth, Wednesday won four of their next five, keeping clean sheets in each but losing to Peterborough United. Another new League One outfit in Barnsley put them to the sword from here, but they responded excellently by registering ten points from their next four. Since table-topping Plymouth Argyle secured a last-gasp 2-1 victory in early October, the Owls haven’t lost and are currently enjoying a 12-game unbeaten run in the division, where they overpowered Port Vale last time out. Seven wins and shutouts in that time solidifies them in 3rd position and in the midst of a three-horse race for the title. With just a solitary defeat at Hillsborough this season, Moore will be eager for his men to kickstart the new year in the same manner they concluded it.
Whether it’s Cameron Dawson or David Stockdale between the sticks, the defence know they have safe hands behind them – the pair have combined for 13 clean sheets in the opening 24 games, with the latter keeping the most of any goalkeeper in the top four tiers in 2022 with 23. The mainstay in the central-back three has been Liam Palmer, who has already popped up with three goals, whilst Mark McGuinness, at just 21, is proving a key figure. Barry Bannan continues to be a revelation, contributing with ten goal involvements, but an injury to the midfielder last time out is a huge blow to the Owels. Fisayo Dele-Bashiru and George Byers have been industrious in the middle of the park, however, with talisman Michael Smith in fine form and closing in on double digits for the campaign.
Sheffield Wednesday: DDDWW
Cambridge United: LLDWL
The U’s travel to Leppings Lane off the back of a narrow 1-0 defeat in Sky Bet League One against in-form Derby County at Pride Park.
The clash on Friday evening was decided by a close-range header from Lewis Dobbin on the eve of the hour mark. Although the Rams undeniably generated the more promising of opportunities, United held their own and popped up with some important blocks, but were undone from nowhere following a well-worked move. Despite a valiant attempt to get back into the game, they couldn’t quite offer enough in the final third as they succumbed to a first loss in three.
Showcasing pride following tricky circumstances in the build-up, Bonner stated: “It was such a shift from our lads, unbelievable really. It’s tough for us at the minute, we’re lacking bodies, but I’ve got to say the effort level from the team tonight was unreal.”
Despite going home empty-handed, the U’s retain 19th going into the first set of 2023 fixtures, with a two-point gap separating themselves from the bottom four, which remains excruciatingly tight. Although they’ve returned seven points from their travels, the joint-lowest in the division, they can take heart from their recent showings.
Regarding team news for Monday afternoon, Ben Worman is likely to miss the tie after limping off with an ankle injury, whilst George Williams played despite feeling unwell, so he’ll need time to recover. Elsewhere, Liam Bennett was recalled from his thoroughly impressive loan with Walsall and could come straight into the XI.
Sheffield Wednesday Wins: 11
Cambridge United Wins: 4
Down Memory Lane
In the reverse fixture just shy of three months ago, the Owls took maximum points with a dogged 0-2 victory at the Abbey Stadium.
A well-placed opener from Lee Gregory within the opening minutes gave the hosts work to do, who kept themselves in with a chance of taking something from what was strong opposition. The clinical Gregory grabbed his second and put the game to bed late in the encounter to force a fourth successive defeat for the U’s.
Following the defeat, where United experimented with a 3-5-2 formation, the Head Coach believed: “That game was there for us to take something from, so the frustration really is that we’ve taken nothing from a game that was fairly even and we were in as much as they were.”
The hosts are out to pick up a first win against the Owls since a summer evening in 2016, when they dumped the then-Championship outfit out of the EFL Cup in the First Round after a Piero Mingoia stunner cancelled out Lucas Joao’s opener, only for Luke Berry to decide the tie in the 118th minute of extra time.
Referee: Andy Haines
Assistant Referee: Matthew Parry
Assistant Referee: Conor Brown
Fourth Official: Geoffrey Liddle