As expected, Alex Neil made quite a few attacking changes for the game against relegation-threatened Morecambe. In came Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard & Elliot Embleton for Trai Hume, Callum Doyle, and Jay Matete.
As a result, Luke O’Nien filled in at LCB while Roberts took up a spot at wing-back with Pritchard & Embleton in their usual positions. Neil was going for the jugular, knowing a win guarantees a playoff spot.
In spite of this side brimming with attacking intent, the Lads overall were very well drilled and conservative in the approach - none of the huge territorial advantage allowed by Cambridge dropping to ten men was on show.
The back three kept position and Embleton & Evans protected them in their usual 3-2 defensive unit. Roberts likes to drift narrow when playing out wide, and whether or not instructed he was the only player from the defence or midfield who was quite loose in his position:
Morecambe utilise a narrow 4-3-3, aimed at getting the ball to Cole Stockton in goal-scoring positions as quickly as possible, thus Arthur Gnahoua (24) and Aaron Wildig (10) are tasked with cutting inside and supporting Stockton in order to free him up in the box.
Clearly, Neil saw that Gnahoua in particular has a proclivity to drift from the left wing (he is a natural striker) and leave left-back Liam Gibson exposed - over 50% of our attacking scenarios took place down the right.
Nathan Broadhead spent a lot of his time on the pitch running either in behind the central defenders or peeling down the right channel behind the CB-LCB gate, doing so successfully for the first time just 20 seconds into the match:
The ball was won back in the home side’s defensive third, worked on the deck and found Broadhead in space. This is basically a microcosm of our attacking plan for the entire game, and where we really succeeded. Long-gone was overloads of the box via crosses and long balls we saw on Tuesday - but back to the style that suits us most.
We only attempted seven crosses in the entire 90 minutes and completed 79 long balls from 429 passes altogether (18%). Overall, we stole the ball often from the opposition & were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from through balls.
The pass to Broadhead for the goal was well-timed from Evans, but the goal was made almost entirely from Broadhead’s ability alone. The first touch & dropped shoulder to sell the defender then run and finish were outstanding:
This goal epitomises what has been great about our play this season - players are moving constantly off the ball switching positions, playing it at a fast pace after nicking it up high and taking advantage. We played it quite directly into Broadhead but did it in the right way that takes advantage of his strengths.
The rest of the game was largely a damp squib, with results elsewhere favouring both sides. However, I was impressed by the total control and dictation of the game by the Lads. Despite playing a more “open” and “creative” midfield, they were still in total control and Morecambe only created one chance from open play, which was wide anyway. Anthony Patterson was not forced into making a single save.
However, we could have been more disciplined. Overall, we gave away 13 fouls and eight of these were within our own half - giving Morecambe a chance from set-pieces. Four out of five of their chances were created from these opportunities and was the only time we looked under the cosh at all during the game.
Neil will almost have certainly noticed this and will want more discipline in giving away these opportunities - our biggest weakness is defending corners and free-kicks pumped high into the box and we need to stop the issue at source - giving away the fouls in the first place.
Lastly, Corry Evans was again outstanding in midfield and easily man of the match. He controls all proceedings and is a very effective water carrier. While he sometimes fails to deliver from an attacking or creative sense, his assist here was excellent. But that is not his job anyway - his job is to provide a base in which the rest of the midfield and attack are given more freedom to roam.
His defensive discipline and positioning off-the-ball continues to amaze me, and you saw he had a footballing intelligence not many others in the squad possess within minutes of his first appearance at the start of the season.
He has come under pressure for potentially hiding at times, and fair enough - he didn’t do a single interview for almost four months and that is unacceptable as captain, but it is clear on the pitch in the last two months he has been excellent and the club themselves are featuring him in all player correspondence at the minute - and he needs to be ever-present in order to lead us to promotion.