Match Overview

Cambridge United come into this game on the back of a win against AFC Wimbledon, which ended a run of seven games without a win League One. The Shrimps’ last League win was six games ago against Lincoln at The Mazuma Stadium, so both sides will be desperate to get all three points. 

I’m very fortunate to have two United experts available to provide their detailed insights, Alex Jones and Jordan Worland from ‘Under the Abbey Stand’

So what are they expecting from the game? 

Alex predicts, 

¨Goals. Every time I check the latest scores, Morecambe’s matches are always absolute chaos, especially in the last few weeks.

It’s clear this is far from a Derek Adams’ side anymore, with an attack capable of playing at the top end of League One and a defence perhaps better suited to League Two! 

Perhaps that’s harsh, but it’s clear where Morecambe’s strengths and weaknesses lie. I trust Cambridge to take advantage of their wobbly back line, with our attacking record being similarly impressive for a newly promoted side.

However, Cole Stockton is likely to wreak havoc on our defence, which is evidently short of confidence in recent weeks. 

A cold Tuesday night in Morecambe isn’t an enjoyable match for any visiting team, but it feels like an incredibly important game given the two teams’ league positions and the hosts’ recent dip in form. In my eyes, this is a good time to play Morecambe and we should be expecting a positive result.¨

Jordan states,

¨I expect a tight game from the two teams who surprised everyone last season by getting promoted out of League Two. Unfortunately I can’t see it being a repeat of our last visit to Morecambe!

It looks like we’ve both started the season in similar fashion with positive starts that have slowly started to drop off. We won on Saturday and that was our first win in 8 games.

However, your home form also looks strong. 

Saturday was also our first clean sheet since August so I expect Morecambe will score. We have also scored in 20 consecutive away games, which is a record for us, so I am guessing we’ll see goals!

We’ve a small squad so Tuesday night games after a Saturday are always tougher, however, there is still the great spirit in the squad from last year and we’re very hard to beat (only 4 defeats so far this season) and do perform well away from home.

Given we’re the draw specialists so far (7 draws) I think that’s a very likely outcome on Tuesday but I think both teams will look at the fixture as winnable and therefore, give it that extra spice.¨

Looking at Robbo´s sides’ form at The Mazuma Stadium compared to Mark Bonner´s Yellows on the road makes slightly favourable reading for Morecambe. The Shrimps have lost just once on home soil, whilst United have just one win to their name away at Portsmouth. 

SoccerStats.com

SoccerStats.com produce a neat table illustrating their variance in a side’s home and away League achievements. Morecambe have earnt on average 1.07 points more at home and Cambridge have earnt 0.44 points less away from The Abbey Stadium.

The Shrimps´ First Team Coach, Diarmuid O’Carroll praised the local crowd in a pre-game interview,

´It´s a big thing. We have a lot of young players. There´s a lot of players who maybe haven’t played in front of big crowds. When we concede or have a tough patch or someone gives the ball away you don’t hear what you traditionally would hear with the supporters getting on their back.

Everyone´s enjoying it, everyone´s supportive. They get frustrated from time to time. If we all stay together, that’ll give them (the players) the boost they need and maybe gets us over the line. Turning a defeat to a draw or a draw into a win´.

It´ll be interesting to see how this plays out on the eye. According to The Analyst, Cambridge United have the highest PPDA in the division with 17.3 and Morecambe have the 5th highest with 15.5. 

PPDA is the number of passes made by the attacking side (opposition) against the defensive actions (side in question). The higher the PPDA, tends to suggest a lowest intensity press.

 

When we played Lincoln, who have the second highest PPDA with 16.1, at home, it was noticeable how much space our defenders had to work the ball up the pitch. 

What’s curious when you watch Cambridge is that they don’t appear, to the naked eye at least, that they are intentionally sitting off. Infact, they show great energy getting around the pitch so perhaps it’s a case of them pressing the ball without putting in a challenge.

With the expertise of Alex and Jordan the preview will look at selection decisions for both managers, the strengths and weaknesses of United, opportunities against them and threats from them. 

The Shrimps´ Selections

Alfie McCalmont, who picked up a thigh injury on international duty for Northern Ireland, came off the bench for 21 minutes last Saturday against Oxford and I expect he’ll come in for Adam Phillips. 

GOOD MOVE - Morecambe boss Stephen Robinson believes his aims for Alfie McCalmont align with Leeds United's. Pic: Getty
Alfie McCalmont in action against Preston. Image from The Yorkshire Evening Post.

Adam´s a terrific player when it clicks, but in the last few games his delivery has not been to the standard we know he can produce. Prior to Alfie’s injury his performances were getting to the best level we’ve seen from him. Away at Wycombe he started to show more confidence to shoot from distance and the Leeds loanee got his first competitive goal from a deflected drive. 

I also think with Ayunga in the side we can afford to be a little more conservative in the midfield selections.

The Burnley loanee, Phillips could make a great impact coming off the bench as an attacking option too! 

I predicted Wes McDonald would be wide left and Jonah Ayunga would be wide right against Oxford, which didn´t materialise. In the name of reducing changes and buillding partnerships, I foresee Ayunga wide right – like in the previous two games – and McDonald wide left. I´ve noticed a productive partnership developing between Ryan Cooney and Ayunga down the right flank.

The second switch I envisage is Scott Wootton returning for Ryan Delaney. I don’t think either of our two centre backs can look back on the three goals conceded and not take accountability, but Anthony O´Connor is our captain and shows brilliance on the ball. He has also put in some brilliant performances – including a stellar performance against Plymouth Argyle at home.

Centre back is our main weak area at the moment and lapses of concentration are costing us dearly. Stephen Robinson stated in the Oxford post-game interview,

¨We´re missing that steel. We´ve asked personnel to step up. I believe we have the personnel in the building to do that and obviously if we don´t, I have to find those personnel at Christmas.¨

Stephen Robinson. Picture courtesy of Morecambefc.com

They will need to take responsibility against the busy physical presence of number 9 Joe Ironside, if we´re to get a result.

United´s Selection (According to Alex)

¨Thankfully, Mark Bonner has a much healthier looking squad now than he did this time last week. Adam May is serving the last game of his three-match ban for the red card he picked up against Shrewsbury Town, but Jensen Weir has stepped up incredibly well in his absence.

Dimitar Mitov should be able to return in goal, having missed the last two games due to concussion protocols. Wes Hoolahan will almost certainly drop out of the side, with the 39-year-old not having played a single Tuesday night fixture since joining the club.

We do face a huge selection dilemma in defence. It’s now been confirmed that George Williams’ yellow card on Saturday was his fifth of the season, so he’s suspended for the trip to Lancashire. While Leon Davies is the only other natural right-back at the club, he’s played next to no football in the last year and is incredibly unlikely to start.

This means that Jubril Okedina will probably move across from centre-back to right-back. That could be an issue if Lloyd Jones is not fit enough to start, having come off injured in the win against Wimbledon. That may mean that Jack Iredale has to move to centre-back from left-back, or Paul Digby may have to drop deeper from midfield. It all hinges on whether or not Jones is going to be okay to start the game.

There could perhaps be a question mark as to which formation he’ll choose to play. I’m predicting that we’ll end up with a 4-4-2, given that we’re a bit light in midfield, but this could easily become a 4-3-3 with Ben Worman stepping back into the starting lineup. Sam Smith, a natural striker, has regularly been played out wide this season, which could happen if Bonner chooses to take a more conservative approach to the game and add an extra body in midfield.¨

United´s Selection (According to Jordan)

¨Big selection decision for Bonz ahead of the game relates to who to play at right back. First choice George Williams picked up his fifth yellow on Saturday and will be a big miss for Tuesday as he is one of the senior members of the squad and a good leader.

The defence issues could be further impacted by the fact our main centre back, Lloyd Jones, went off injured on Saturday. It was reported that this was just for precaution but we’ll need to wait to see if he’s fit for Tuesday night.If Jones is fit to play, I’d expect Okedina, a CB by trade, to move out to the right, however the outcome on Jones’ fitness will be the big driver for how we line up in defence.

The Irish Messi, aka Wes Hoolahan, was so influential for us last season and is carrying on with that form this season too. However, at the age of 39, Bonner has always had to tread carefully with Wes’ recovery time. This has meant he tends not to play Tuesday nights after a game on Saturday and I expect this to continue for the Morecambe fixture. The selection decision has always been how to deal with this, so far this term the answer has been to change formation for Tuesday night games, ditching the 4231 for a 433. However, injuries and suspensions mean we’re light on central midfielders so we may have to stick to 4231. An alternative may be a second ever start for Ben Worman in midfield. 

Our first choice Keeper, Dimi Mitov, has missed the last two games due to a concussion and we’ve been playing an emergency loan Keeper Tomas Holy. I’d expect Mitov to come back in. ¨

United´s Strengths

From Alex´s perspective, 

¨Cambridge’s biggest strength is their versatility. Despite religiously sticking to a 4-4-2 formation last season, we’ve played with a lot of different systems this campaign. The preferred option is a 4-2-3-1, but we’ve often reverted to a 4-4-2 against weaker opponents or moved to a 4-3-3 when we’re without Wes Hoolahan (which seems to be more often that not these days).

Our wingers have often been a beacon of light this season. Shilow Tracey and James Brophy might not be top of the goal or assist charts, but their pace and movement can be quite hard to defend against. If they’re in top form, good luck stopping them.

We can play some very attractive football, but a lot of what we do focuses on playing long balls over to Joe Ironside. At 5ft10, he’s not a giant, but he’s one of the most physical strikers in the division. His knockdowns are then picked up by one of the midfielders (usually Hoolahan, but likely Weir on Tuesday) who can then play a penetrating pass through to one of our wingers.

That’s our best method of getting the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.¨

Jordan views their strengths to be, 

¨Our main strength so far this season has been how well we’ve been out of possession. We’ve been very comfortable surrendering possession and inviting teams onto us and being able to contain them. 

The team has a lot of pace, especially in wide areas via our attacking midfielders and full backs. We’re also a tall team and don’t lack a physical presence. We’ll play with one up front, Big Joe Ironside will occupy defenders, our game will hinge on how well we can bodies up to support in attack. 

Both have referred to Joe Ironside as a key strength in the way their side play and he is a key element to how they move the ball up the pitch. ¨

Against AFC, according to Wyscout, he was involved in eleven aerial battles with five being successful. It’s curious that four of those five were some distance away from the box, slightly more towards Cambridge´s rug side. 

These are not areas which will create clear goal scoring chances, but Ironside’s ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play is key.

In this action against AFC Wimbledon, Ironside held off Hungarian centre back Dániel Csóka with his back to goal. He manages to roll the defender and play a defence splitting pass to Sam Smith. On this occasion it was offside, but it illustrates how he can be dangerous from only a few yards within the opposition half. 

Here, Ironside again holds off Csóka and the ball bounces into the path of Wes Hoolahan. This immediately turns into an attack at the Dons defence. 

This ability allows him to operate effectively as a lone ranger up front or as a front two with someone to knock it off to immediately. 

Ironside isn’t as prolific as his predecessor, Paul Mullin, but he’s a poacher in the box. All four of his goals from open play have come from inside the penalty box, as shown by his Wyscout shot map below from the 20/21 League One season.

Alex pointed out Shilow Tracey´s threat from the wing and he’s shown impressive dribble stats so far this season. 61.2% of his dribbles have been successful in League One (41/67) and he’s been in particularly tricky form lately. 75% of his dribbles have proved successful in his last three games (15/20). 

Against Doncaster Rovers he proved what a handful he can be. For their goal, Shiloh chased down Doncaster centre back Joseph Olowu and managed to nick the ball from him inside the area. Olowu managed to recover and jockey Tracey away from goal, although a bit of neat footwork allowed Tracey to put in a low cross from the byline. The cross ended up being turned into his own goal from Rover midfielder Dan Gardner.  

On the left wing, James Brophy is comfortable carrying the ball. The former Leyton Orient wide forward has managed an average of 4.35 dribbles per game with 57.9% success rate.

United´s Weaknesses

From Alex´s viewpoint, 

¨Hoolahan can often be a bit of a poisoned chalice. On his day, he’s one of the best players in the entire division. But we often rely on him too much when he starts, so if he’s not performing well, our entire attacking output can collapse. We’ve actually found that some of our better performances come when he’s not in the team.

Bonner is still an incredibly young and inexperienced manager, despite the amazing things he’s achieved so far in his career. When the flow of the game is going against us, he can be hesitant to make a substitution.

Our clash against Crewe Alexandra is a prime example. At 2-0 down, it took him more than 70 minutes to bring on Smith and change the system to a 4-4-2. He went on to play a crucial part in us drawing the game, but it felt winnable if he opted to roll the dice, say, 15 minutes earlier.

We’re also notorious for starting games dreadfully. This has improved a lot in recent weeks, especially in games against Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers and Wimbledon. However, that vulnerability is clearly still an issue, having conceded inside the opening ten minutes in five of our last ten league games. ¨

As far as Jordan´s concerned, United´s vulnerabilities are as follows,

¨We’re strong in defence when everyone is on form, however, we’ve conceded our share of soft goals so far this season, a possible course for this is the allowing opponents so much possession.

Another possible explanation is the one striker formation sometimes sees us struggling to keep the ball stuck upfield and allows opponents to get back at us quickly. 

Another key weakness has been our shots on goal tally in games. We really need to up our chances and shots on goal. I think this is a connotation of the formation switching this season to 1 up top and not playing 2 strikers, it pains me to say it, but we’re missing Paul Mullin…

It’s remarkable how Bonnor has managed to form his side into a competitive side, one level above too, without the source of 31 of his 73 of his goals last year in League Two – Paul Mullin!¨

With regard to Wes Hoolahan, he’s missed 6 games this season. In those games Cambridge United have averaged 1.17 points per game, whilst with him the Yellows have averaged 1.33 points per game. Wes´ appearances are below from Transfermarkt.

According to The Analyst, he also averages just short of an assist every other game, so losing that supply of quality creativity would affect any side.

With him missing every midweek game, it must be difficult to get in a rhythm of playing in the early stages of the season in which there is a full schedule.

Opportunities against United

According to Alex,

¨A fast start could be our downfall, as we haven’t won a game from behind since beating Oldham Athletic in League Two back in March. We can claw our way back into games, but very rarely come away with all three points if we trail heading into the break.

Midfield is an area of concern, especially if we go with the predicted 4-4-2 formation on Tuesday. I have a lot of confidence in Weir and Paul Digby in midfield, but playing two midfielders can often see us overrun. 

For example, we lost the midfield battle in our game against Lincoln City back in September. Their trio of Liam Bridcutt, Conor McGrandles and Teddy Bishop had far too much space to operate in, which forced our full-backs out of position to try and press the ball off them. That left us totally exposed out wide, allowing Anthony Scully acres of space to run into. He went on to score his hat-trick and we lost 5-1.

If Jones is ruled out on Tuesday, we lose by far the most physical component of our back line. That isn’t ideal for facing Stockton, who’s aerial presence is a clear strength. Unless we can stop crosses coming into the box and nullify service to him, he’ll have ample opportunities to bully our centre-backs.¨

From Jordan´s point of view, 

¨The unknowns around who plays in defence have to be the obvious changes. Our first choice right back will be missing so it is likely we’ll see Okedina (a summer signing from Spurs) playing in that position. Okedina is a centre-back and not been used by us as a fullback so there could be an advantage to be found down our right hand side. If Lloyd Jones isn’t fit to play then our defence will be further stretched, potentially seeing our first choice left back moving into the role.

With Wessi not playing we do lack a chance creator and play maker. Jensen Weir on loan, from Brighton, has shown potential to fill that role in the last few games so could be one to keep an eye on. 

One area which I see as an opportunity, which echoes some of the points raised by Alex and Jordan, is the way United play. As earlier mentioned, their PPDA is the highest in League One so it appears they´re putting in few challenges. This will allow us to play and work the ball. ¨¨

When you watch Cambridge, it doesn’t appear like they´re intentionally sitting off, as they do throw numbers towards the ball when out of possession. 

During a recent game against Gillingham, I was quite taken back by the positioning out of possession.

When Gills midfielder, Daniel Adshead picks up the ball, all four of their midfielders – Tracey, Digby, O´Neil, and Brophy – head towards the ball, but don’t get close to putting in a challenge. 

For this split second all of their midfield is on their right side of the pitch with a simple switch possible. 

A low pass to Gillingam´s right flank takes out the entire Cambridge midfield.

Gillingham right back Robbie Mckenzie finds himself in possession with a clear route to run into the area. 

This is part of the reason why I’ve predicted Alfie McCalmont will be selected. He has shown a lovely ability to spread the play with quick sharp passes, whilst Toumani Diagourga (Toums), Callum Jones and Adam Phillips (if selected) have the technical ability to use the pitch with their range of passing, too.  

Both of our full backs, Greg Leigh and Ryan Cooney, are comfortable driving forward with the ball and if we work the ball to them they have the pace to advance the ball quickly.

In this instance, Mckenzie takes a touch and delivers a lofted ball. When these opportunities arise for us, I would like to see us drive the ball quickly into space and deliver low to mid-height crosses into the box. None of our players are particularly dominant in the air, but all of our attackers have quick feet to get shots off. 

I´d also be happy to see the fullbacks get some low drive shots off to test the keeper. One of them is due a goal!

Cambridge show great endeavor and spirit to get around the pitch, but with smart, sharp one touch football we can create space and overloads. If they decide to play with two up front then they could be found outnumbered in midfield. I tend to feel Bonner will play Ironside on his own upfront for this reason. 

This area could then become an opportunity if we’re able to issolate Ironside. We´ve already discussed how he can bring others into play. However, if we block his passing lanes to his colleagues quickly then we have the chance to win the ball back and counter back on Cambridge with Ironside behind the ball and out of the game.

In addition, players like Ayunga, Toums and Leigh have the ability to use a bit of trickery to get past their man. If United charge towards the ball, a clever bit of skill could find us behind their first line of defence and straight onto their defensive back four.

Oh yeah… I´d have to be mental if I didn´t mention the opportunity for Cole ´the goal´ Stockton to pull another goal from nowhere – his 13th from 17 games. His first time volley from a Ryan Cooney cross was a quality strike fit to win a match, so hopefully his strikes will start earning some points again soon!

Threats from Cambridge

Alex believes, 

¨Morecambe seem to struggle against sides that play two up top, so I’d expect us to play Ironside and Smith in attack together. The former is your typical target-man striker who’s physicality is the main weapon in his arsenal, while the latter has played a free-roaming role in recent weeks which has even seen him play out wide. They contrast and compliment each other very well, and this should cause real issues on Tuesday.

If we can strike early, we’ll likely go on to get a result. We’ve dropped just four points from winning positions this season, and are yet to suffer defeat when scoring first. A fast start should give us the confidence to see out a win, even if we can’t score immediately. Once we’ve got the flow of the game going in our favour, we rarely relinquish it.¨

Jordan sees the threats to be, 

¨Our wide midfielders are terrific ball carriers and possess great pace, so Shilow Tracey and James Brophy are names to keep an eye on. Tracey was here last season on loan from Spurs and joined permanently in the summer, he’s really started to find some excellent form and is very exciting to watch when he takes on players. As a young player he’s not quite the finished article so can be frustrating at times but I expect he’ll be deployed to stretch and test your full backs. Likewise, Brophy is pacey and is excellent at bringing the ball out of defence and up the pitch. Brophy will look to get behind/get to the byline a lot.¨

Our inability to consistently defend against physical in-your-face forwards has been a severe annoyance for Stephen Robinson. 

Against Oxford, we were more than competitive but were undone by lapses of concentration from an aerial perspective and for players losing sight of their markers. 

The temptation could be to over-focus on Ironside to stamp out that threat but they have other players in the side – such as Tracey and Brophy who can hurt us. 

According to the Analyst, we´ve conceded 9 goals from set pieces this season – a goal every 1.66 games. The Yellows have scored from three corners so far this season. 

In the first example  fullback George Williams (suspended for this game) attacks an inswinging corner to head home.

In the second example, an inswinging corner is hit to the far post and headed back into the six yard box. Ironside somehow manages to outleap everyone to score with his head.

In the third example, an outswinging corner is loosely headed clear from the Pompey defender. Liam O´Neil is immediately onto it and with ice cool precision half volleys into the top corner. 

It illustrates we have to be ready for all kinds of different threats from corners and we cannot afford any momentary lapses. League One is proving extremely unforgiving.

Mark Bonner and his men will be more than well aware of our Achilles heel. They will use every opportunity to win set plays and keep men forward. 

For example, when we’ve cleared our lines from a set piece we need to be switched on for the ball being recycled back into our box. United have a tendency to leave centre backs forward to exploit these situations. We must not only be aggressive in winning first and second contacts, but keep switched on right through the stage of play until the lines are fully cleared.

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

I closed before our last game mentioning a need to show our fight and desire; which in my humble opinion we did, for the most part at least. What we need to ally this with is awareness. Everyone needs to be alive for ninety, ninety-five minutes or however long it takes. It’s not just the defenders who defend – everyone needs to take responsibility, be alive to the threats that abound and let your teammates know.

Our guests have written eloquently and informatively about their team and it seems that in many aspects we mirror each other – strong upfront while inconsistent at the back – so the win may come down to the team that doesn’t slip-up and concentrates throughout.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the efforts of Alex Jones & Jordan Worland from Under the Abbey Stand.

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW

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