North Stander: Sorry, Kieran but I think you got that team selection wrong

Macauley Bonne and Luke Woolfenden look to get their heads to the ball.

Macauley Bonne and Luke Woolfenden look to get their heads to the ball. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Where did that very poor performance come from? It was definitely the most lacklustre display we’ve produced since Kieran McKenna arrived, and has probably killed off our faint play-off hopes.

We were never at the races, and were outmanoeuvred by a determined Cambridge team who really did a job on us. The visitors weren’t especially pretty to watch, but they were certainly effective.

Town players can only look on as an own goal by Dominic Thompson (right of frame, on ground) gives C

Town players can only look on as an own goal by Dominic Thompson (right of frame, on ground) gives Cambridge United victory at Portman Road. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

So, why were we so poor? Firstly, I think McKenna got his team wrong. Our bright young boss has done brilliantly so far, producing different line-ups for individual games, but on Saturday he messed up, in my opinion.

Sam Morsy and Tyreeq Bakinson have been building a really good partnership in central midfield, with the powerful Bakinson staying deep to allow Morsy to get forward.

Why McKenna chose to drop Bakinson and replace him with Tom Carroll against Cambridge is beyond me. Maybe the thinking was that we would need a more attacking midfielder to unlock the visitors’ massed defence. If that was the case, the manager was overthinking it.

The lightweight Carroll was all at sea, repeatedly swept aside in the rough and tumble of a League One midfield battle.

Carroll’s struggles also stopped Morsy getting forward. It just didn’t work, and I don’t understand why McKenna didn’t recognise his error at half-time and bring Bakinson on. We were still in the game.

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But it wasn’t just that. Throughout the game, and all over the pitch, we just weren’t at it. Once again, a team which came determined to frustrate has managed to do just that.

Town fans show their support ahead of the game.

Town fans show their support ahead of the game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

As an attacking force, we are strangely unbalanced. Nearly all of our threat comes down the right, usually in the form of Wes Burns.

On the left, we produce very little. Dominic Thompson seems to be struggling to play the wing-back role, especially going forward. Perhaps, as I’m told, he is more suited to playing as a traditional left-back.

A miserable afternoon for him was summed up by the own goal.

Macauley Bonne vents his frustration towards referee Craig Hicks following the final whistle.

Macauley Bonne vents his frustration towards referee Craig Hicks following the final whistle. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

That’s definitely an area where we need to strengthen, along with our now desperate need for a goal scorer. Our strikers have simply stopped scoring, no matter which one gets the opportunity to start a game.

Probably the most worrying aspect of the Cambridge game was our inability to break down a well organised defence.

They came to park the bus, and challenged us to find a way through. Who can blame them?

It’s worrying because that’s what we’re going to come up against time and again in this humdrum league.

Clubs with small budgets will come to Portman Road, be inspired by the big crowd, and will fight, scrap and battle to keep us out. We have be smart enough to find a way to win those games.

Once again, we were “treated” to some horrible negativity from the visitors. But we have to deal with it. Yes, the Cambridge keeper was taking an eternity with goal kicks. Yes, the officials got some decisions wrong. But that isn’t why we lost the game. We just weren’t good enough.

Town had a penalty appeal waved away after this shot from Sam Morsy appeared to be handled by Adam M

Town had a penalty appeal waved away after this shot from Sam Morsy appeared to be handled by Adam May - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Time wasting is frustrating, and I’ve mentioned before how weak referees tend to be in dealing with it. It happened again on Saturday. Surely it’s not rocket science? A word of warning and then a yellow card for the next offence. Job done...

So, as Wes Burns has admitted, that’s our season done and dusted. We now face a fourth season in the third tier. Who would have thought it?

In the short term, perhaps we’ll see some of the promising youngsters who Kieron Dyer believes so passionately deserve a chance at senior level.

Looking a little further ahead, we clearly need to strengthen in certain areas if we are, finally, going to mount a proper, sustained promotion challenge, which has proved beyond us in our three years in this division.

One thing is certain – our home crowds will be extraordinary. The season ticket campaign will be the best for years.

Mark Ashton is talking about gates of 28,000. That may be a little ambitious, but I think 25,000 is realistic.

Let’s hope those huge crowds watch a promotion-winning team. I believe they will.