The curtain closes on the 2022/23 season at a jam-packed Abbey Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with the chance for Sky Bet League One safety up for grabs against Forest Green Rovers...
With survival no longer in their hands, the first task for Mark Bonner’s men is to get their job done by rewarding the U’s faithful with three points against the Green, who are rooted to the foot of the table and without victory in seven. Requiring some favours in the process, a monumental day awaits in the third tier.
How to Watch
Sunday’s early meeting, which kicks off at 12:00pm, is officially sold-out - with waves of amber backing the side from all four sides of the ground.
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Founded in 1889, the ambitious outfit have enjoyed a vibrant journey that has seen them rise from the depths of the Dursley and Stroud leagues to the top tier of non-league football on the eve of the 21st century. In the space of five years, a famous play-off final success at Wembley and a League Two title helped the visitors ply their trade in the third tier for the first time. Although a short spell, with relegation confirmed in mid-April, the forward-thinking group stick with their goal of one day attaching the third and final star to the back of their bamboo kits.
Kicking off in style, Forest Green won their opening match 1-2 at Bristol Rovers, but remarkably have not won on the road since. Responding to a narrow defeat to Ipswich Town by taking a point against Lincoln was enough early indication they could settle, but six convincing defeats in eight made for contrasting beliefs. A thoroughly impressive 1-0 success at home to Bolton Wanderers was overshadowed by a seven-game winless streak, yet back-to-back victories against the U’s and rivals Cheltenham Town put them within the cusp of safety. It proved to be the pinnacle, however, as 13 defeats in 16 were swallowed. A mighty shock against Sheffield Wednesday, Duncan Ferguson’s sole success, in late March is the only three points they’ve claimed since December – with the side rooted to rock bottom all throughout 2023. Claiming one point from a possible 21, the visitors look to bow out on the 30-point mark as they prepare to lick their wounds before plotting their renaissance.
With an extremely effective wing-back system, which was so vital in 2021/22, being honoured on occasions, the Green have persisted with the old-school 4-4-2 style of late. At their disposal, Scottish goalkeeper Ross Doohan is determined to add a third clean sheet to his tally following a January move, with mainstay loanee Olly Casey likely to partner either Brandon Cooper or Dominic Bernard in the heart of defence. The settled Udoka Godwin-Malife and former Lincoln City man Jamie Robson are driven to be stubborn, whilst Corey O’Keeffe is incredibly attack-minded and is a real livewire. Exciting prospect Harvey Bunker is enjoying pulling the strings alongside enforcer and skipper Dylan McGeouch, that’s allowed Manchester United loanee Charlie Savage to find freedom in the final third and link with Myles Peart-Harris, who’s popped up with eight goal involvements. The experienced Amadou Bakayoko is a useful component to bring on, likewise is the nippy Jordan Garrick and returning hero Reece Brown.
Cambridge United: WLLWL
Forest Green Rovers: LLDLL
The U’s are determined to respond from their last outing, which saw them suffer a slender 1-0 defeat at Burton Albion.
Despite going behind on the half an hour mark courtesy of Mark Helm’s solo effort, United carved out some excellent chances throughout - but were denied by the woodwork on three occasions and unable to convert past an inspired Jordan Amissah as the Brewers held on.
Summarising the evening, Bonner admitted: “Tonight is disappointing because of the opportunity we had to put it in our own hands. But if we’re being honest six weeks ago we’d have taken just being in it on the last day. It (the result) certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. I thought we were going to score second half. We had some really good moments and some good chances.”
Due to three defeats from four, the U’s are no longer in control of their destiny heading into the 46th matchday. Sitting in 22nd with a point and inferior goal difference, it’s an encounter the side have to win, whilst at the same time both Milton Keynes and Morecambe must drop points away at Burton and Exeter City respectively.
Heading into the finale, the Head Coach stated: “The only scenario that can’t happen is us not doing our job. We’ve got to do that and make sure we get ourselves into a position to win the game.
“The consistency of our message is really important. I don’t think any words I say will or should make a difference. Everybody knows the consequences of the game. The players have got their own pride to fight for and you’ve seen that in the team recently.”
In regards to team news, Shilow Tracey could return to the fold following injury, whilst Steve Seddon is 50/50 after missing Burton due to illness. Elsewhere, Lloyd Jones’ persist groin problem is likely to keep him out.
Cambridge United Wins: 6
Forest Green Rovers Wins: 11
Down Memory Lane
The U’s have vengeance on their mind following the last encounter between the sides, when a last-gasp penalty succumbed them to a gut-wrenching 1-2 defeat at the New Lawn.
In a less-chaotic first half, Josh March headed home the opener from close range. The men in blue struggled to find a foothold from here, but did conclude a sweet passage of play near the death when Saikou Janneh lashed in his first for the club. With a point apiece looking destined, a controversial decision allowed Connor Wickham to seal the match from 12 yards.
Cutting a frustrated figure, Bonner stated post-match: “You can sometimes tell by the reaction of players and I’m not sure there’s much in it if I’m honest. It’s a really disappointing way to lose the game when we’ve got ourselves in it because we were deserving of something from that. The position isn’t so concerning now really, it’s just the points. Can we get performances and put them together to get us the points that we need?”
The Gloucestershire opponents have been somewhat of a bogey team for the U’s, particularly since becoming a regular league fixture. In the previous seven meetings, the hosts have lost on six occasions, with the solitary triumph coming in March 2021 when Wes Hoolahan’s strike secured an invaluable 1-0 success at CB5.
Referee: Ben Toner
Assistant Referee: Gareth Viccars
Assistant Referee: Samuel Ogles
Fourth Official: Nicholas Cooper