Cambridge United plot to make an immediate return to winning ways in Sky Bet League One this weekend as strong starters Port Vale make the trip down to the Abbey Stadium...
The hosts are out to add even more consistency to their results by collecting a fourth win from five on home soil and return to the upper echelons of the division. In their way, a similarly resurgent Valiants side who are level on points with top of the table.
How to Watch
Rapidly edging closer to a full-capacity crowd, be quick in securing your place for Saturday’s encounter, which gets underway at 3pm.
The Newmarket Road End and Main Stand has officially sold out, with space now only available in the Intelligent Membrane Habbin stands. Approximately under 100 tickets remain in the North Habbin, whereas the South Habbin currently has a decent amount of space still to be snapped up.
Be sure to keep your notifications on for the Ticket Office Twitter Account for all of the latest updates regarding sales.
After their formation in 1876, Vale fluctuated between the Football League and Midland League after a sticky patch almost forced them into oblivion. With time, they continued to add to a sizeable trophy cabinet, which now reads at four promotions from the third tier, six from the fourth and two EFL trophies, which were won in 1993 and 2001. Since the turn of the millennium, the Valiants have yo-yoed between the two divisions, but the appointment of Darrell Clarke was an inspired one as he guided the side to play-off triumph at the fifth attempt. Now under the tutelage of Andy Crosby, there’s a feel-good factor around the well-run club, who aim to continue defying the odds.
Adopting a 3-4-2-1 formation, the Valiants are impeccably set up, with every member of the squad critical to the system. Connor Ripley is a superb shot stopper and penalty specialist for this level, with long-serving club legend Nathan Smith the cog in defence alongside Alex Iacovitti, Lewis Cass and most recently Crystal Palace loanee Kofi Balmer. Creative spark Conor Grant and Mitchell Clark don the flanks, with youngster Ollie Arblaster forming a strong relationship with Funso Ojo in the middle. Ben Garrity is utilised further forward with Tottenham Hotspur man Alfie Devine, who supply and work in collaboration with battering ram James Wilson.
Contrasting to their recent form, the Valiants had the world on their shoulders as early as matchday one when they were annihilated 7-0 at Barnsley. This handed them the fuel to spark a six-game unbeaten run, as they impressively dispatched Reading 1-0 and forced a stalemate at fellow newcomers Blackpool. A topsy-turvy afternoon in London was concluded with a late 2-3 victory over Charlton Athletic, before they continued their second half exploits with triumphs against Carlisle United, Oxford United and Northampton Town – stretching their winning run to four games. In midweek, this was terminated as Burton Albion returned home with a 2-3 success. Despite that, they boast 3rd position – joint-top of the division – and are desperate to climb to the summit come 5pm, even though no side have shipped more than them in League One.
Cambridge United: WLWLL
Port Vale: WWWWL
Determined to match their promising performance levels with some consistency in their results, United are looking to respond from their slender 2-1 defeat to newly-relegated Wigan Athletic last time out.
Despite posing a threat with some clear-cut chances, the men in amber had to contend with heavy Latics pressure throughout the 90 minutes. Moments after the hosts broke the deadlock through Stephen Humphrys’ curler, Thelo Aasgaard capitalised with a close-range stab – a sucker punch which knocked the stuffing out of the U’s. Although Fejiri Okenabirhie restored parity from the spot, his side couldn’t snatch a share of the spoils at the death after a barrage of pressure.
Frustrated, but ultimately encouraged by the application, Mark Bonner said: “I was really pleased with how we started both halves and how we finished when we were chasing the game… We gave a really good account of ourselves, we created chances, but we were too erratic with them.”
It was yet another game where the U’s were extremely competitive and on another day may have earned their share of the spoils. Sitting content in 11th, with just the sole point separating them from the play-offs, the fact they’ve scored in every game but one means they’re a match for anyone. The task now is to secure a fourth home win from five, giving them the confidence to go on and terminate their six-game win, loss streak.
Bonner on the Valiants: “No question, they are a very, very good team, playing in a style that is a bit of a shift from what they have done… I’ve been really impressed with them.”
Bonner on goalscoring: “We know we’ve got seven or eight attacking players that can contribute to goals no doubt. We’ve got midfield players that can score – we’ve already seen that – and I think we can be a threat in set play situations. I do think there’s a lot of goals in this team.”
Bonner on CB5 advantage: “It’s certainly a place that we want to make difficult for teams to come to - I think the atmosphere really helps us. We’ve played some really good games in the home stadium and we want to do that again this weekend.”
In his latest pre-match presser, the Head Coach confirmed that Jack Stevens should return to training next week, whilst he remains hopeful that Brandon Haunstrup, Jordan Cousins and Saikou Janneh will all be back for the busy early October schedule. Elsewhere, Harrison Dunk is ruled out after picking up a knock in his knee.
Cambridge United Wins: 10
Port Vale Wins: 12
Down Memory Lane
If you had to pinpoint the exact moment the U’s fortunes changed in their great escape bid during the back end of last season, many would think back to the April clash in Burslem when the visitors returned home with a morale-boosting 0-2 triumph.
In one of their most complete performances of 2022/23, Bonner’s men disposed of a turgid away record and six-match winless run thanks to Sam Smith’s and Lloyd Jones’ quickfire second-half strikes.
More than content with the performance, the Head Coach lauded: “I’m absolutely thrilled with the performance level and the result. It breathes a bit of life and confidence into everybody, which we need.”
It ensured three points apiece for the campaign, after Vale earned a 0-1 win in the October reverse – their only win against United in the previous four meetings after succumbing to a crucial double in the 2020/21 promotion-winning season. Notably, both teams have entered the scoresheet on one occasion in 11, with no draws in the previous 15 attempts – stretching back to August 1993.
Referee: Christopher Pollard
Assistant Referee: Daniel Bonneywell
Assistant Referee: David Harrison
Fourth Official: Daniel Cook