Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 12th; W 17 / D 13 / L 16 / F 56 / A 60 / Pts 64
A very similar league position to 2016/2017, it’s difficult to perceive it as anything other than a little underwhelming. Previous manager Shaun Derry started the campaign with The U’s, and once more, a real struggle for consistency was to be their undoing, with most of the defeats towards the end of last year coming against the more fancied sides in the fourth tier, a clear indication that they weren’t quite at the same level. This was announced emphatically in the most brutal fashion in the derby away to Luton Town, a 7-0 thrashing piling on the humiliation. There wasn’t much in the way of a positive reaction to that loss, and no real upturn in form either, culminating in Derry being sacked in early February after no win in six.
Joe Dunne immediately took over as caretaker, and oversaw a noticeable improvement in their fortunes, gaining maximum points in the first three matches in the hotseat, and scoring more from then onwards until the end of the season. Finishing just inside the top half, it must now serve as a springboard for a real crack at the play-offs as a minimum.
Top Goalscorer: Uche Ikpeazu (13 goals in 36 starts/3,301 minutes)
Top Creator: Jevani Brown (8 assists in 35 starts/3,169 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Joe Dunne; the former defender’s playing career was curtailed at the age of 30, enjoying many seasons at Gillingham and Colchester United, the latter of which came in two separate spells. Upon his retirement, he was offered a coaching role in the academy, and quickly assumed control of the U18s, leading them to unprecedented success during his tenure. His good work hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Essex outfit, and he was asked to charge of the reserves on a permanent basis, as well as helping out with first team affairs when there was a change of management, which was a frequent occurrence.
Finally getting the gig in 2012, his charges narrowly avoided relegation from League One, and moved up four places in the standings at the end of the subsequent season. A woeful start to 2014/2015 saw him dismissed on the 1st of September. He joined his current club early the following year, assisting both Richard Money and Derry, jumping at the chance to prove his credentials once more after the former Notts County boss’ contract was terminated. A disciplinarian who eschews tradition, he’ll be looking to use the knowledge he’s gained in various roles in his coaching career to date to make 2018/2019 more memorable for Cambridge’s fans, utilising at least several of their academy prospects in the process.
Ins: Reggie Lambe (Carlisle United), Louis John (Sutton United) & George Taft (Mansfield Town).
Outs: Uche Ikpeazu (Heart of Midlothian), Piero Mingoia (Accrington Stanley), Leon Legge (Port Vale) & Medy Elito (Barnet).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Dunne will utilise the speed and agility Cambridge posses on the flanks to stretch the opposition and to keep them wide when it’s their turn to attack. David Forde’s best attribute is his positioning, which ranks as one of the best in the EFL. He uses all of his years of experience to know where to place himself, especially for floated crosses, and is one of the few whose punching is authoritative and wholly convincing when attempted. In the middle of the defence, George Taft stands at a giant 6’5″, and is an intimidating presence to come against for any forward. His compatriot Greg Taylor is similarly strong, both in stature and with his left foot, and keep a disciplined watch as a triangle, with Forde at its base.
Both full-backs will constantly overlap the wide midfielders. Jake Carroll will offer a consistent option for Harrison Dunk to make overloads happen on one flank, as well as having the ability to switch the play when this occurs to exploit the vacated space on the other side. Leon Davies is a hot prospect at right-back, and has been watched closely by scouts from the Premier League. Any full-back who shows a willingness to get forward but also time those forays up the wing well is an excellent fit for the modern game, as well as being having the technical ability that could be moulded at a team higher up in the pyramid.
Captain Gary Deegan takes no prisoners as the pivot in this side, relishing the battles against the silkier attacking midfielders that League Two has to offer. He’ll recycle the ball, opting to spray it wide whenever possible. David Amoo and Emmanuel Osadebe and loan capture Reggie Lambe will duke it out on the right. Amoo might miss the first few games, which will give his teammates the chance to impress in his spot. A dynamic player, Osadebe is just as comfortable operating in the half-space, and his raw speed will give plenty of concern for visiting sides to the Abbey Stadium. Amoo and Lambe carry more of a proven goal threat than Osadebe (and can be used as a wide forward), and its good competition to have when all three are available, and any of their introductions from the bench in the latter stages of matches will be unwelcome for their designated marker.
Harrison Dunk has the positional flexibility to operate as an attacking left-back, as well as further up the pitch. This could be key in games that favour the U’s and their direct running. Jevani Brown will sit off the front two when they’re out of possession, and join in quickly whenever there’s a turnover. Also likely to be the designated free-kick and corner taker, his creativity credentials will be put to the test, and he should be able to take that pressure on, as well as weighing in with some goals from range.
Ade Azeez or Barry Corr will offer support to Jabo Ibehre. The latter of the duo is certainly the better choice to be waiting for a multitude of crosses to come into the penalty area, as well as being able to use his know-how to back into his marker and win fouls both in and around the box. Azeez is yet to recapture the form he showed at AFC Wimbledon several years ago, but he has the right characteristics to be able to do so if given a sustained run in the XI. He’ll always look to beat the offside trap and use his pace to get into one-on-ones with a defender or the goalkeeper, but he has a propensity to be too selfish when a simple pass across the face of the area would be almost certainly a goal. Ibehre is obviously strong, and just as importantly, he has the required composure in front of goal to be an outside bet to be top scorer, as he should receive plenty of service.
Harrison Dunk is an excellent player who makes the entire left flank his own with his tireless running and outstanding agility, as well as his close dribbling skills
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; recruitment has been on the quieter side in the university city, but that shouldn’t ring any alarm bells. There’s a good mix of youthful zest, flashy wingers and canny experience in the setup, and Dunne enjoys bringing through and developing players from the academy, which could be something to look out for as the season reaches its end point A full pre-season to work with the squad can only be beneficial for the manager, and the conclusion to draw is that he’s happy with the setup. There’s certainly a case to be made for them to go under the radar in the top seven and becoming a force to be reckoned with as more fancied teams only start to realise what Cambridge are capable of. I’ve been burnt several times in the past when betting on them for promotion, but this just might be their year…