‘A positive result gets us where we need to be,’ says Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner
Cambridge United will bid to make it third time lucky in their promotion chase when they host Grimsby Town at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday (May 8).
The U's have headed into the last two matches, against Stevenage and Harrogate Town, knowing that with the right outcome they would seal a spot in League One.
But needing a win against Stevenage, they lost 1-0, and requiring a point at Harrogate, they were beaten 5-4.
For United to keep their fate in their own hands, it is still only a point they require for promotion as they have a two-point buffer zone in the automatic places - and the title is still a possibility if they were to win and Cheltenham Town drop points at home to Harrogate.
“If you offered this at the start of the season, everyone would bite your hand off but your context does change throughout the season and your targets and expectations change as it goes on,” said United head coach Mark Bonner.
“We’ve had a couple of opportunities in the last two weeks to try to get across the line. I think what you see across quite a few leagues is that bit is harder than it sounds sometimes.
“Bolton should have got promoted last weekend, Tranmere should have stayed in the race and Cheltenham should have won the league - it’s what happens a little bit.
“I’m pretty sure those teams that are beneath us would swap places with us going into this game because whilst we’re not in complete control of what happens, we’re in the driving seat for it.
“The edge and buffer that we’ve built is off our own performances, our own results and our own quality throughout the season. In similar style to the majority of the season, we roll on.
“We’ve had a good training week, and I think everybody is quite looking forward to the game, excited by it and understanding everything that is at stake obviously.
“If you make your lens too wide and focus on everything, you just become distracted by what actually this is about; it’s 22 players plus whatever is required on the pitch trying to deliver a performance that gets a result.
“What do you fall back on for that? You fall back on the number of times you’ve done it before.”
The story around the game is quite clear, avoid defeat and United are up.
They have had margin for error in their matches against Stevenage and Harrogate Town, effectively knowing that they have three bites of the cherry, but now there is a sharp focus.
“You always have in the back of your mind what is happening elsewhere, I think that’s really natural,” said Bonner.
“If ever a game is literally about us, it is this one. We have interest in what happens in other games, but we know a positive result for us gets us where we need to be.
“Our focus just really needs to be on trying to do that, knowing that - and we’ve seen this in the last two teams we’ve played - people aren’t going to give to you and just allow you the game you want.
“Footballers go on the pitch trying to win, trying to be successful and don’t give anything up.
“From our point of view, we just have to really focus on the process that goes into being a good side, the 90-whatever minutes and the start to that is the opening period of the game.
“If we chunk the game down, and look after each little section, then that’s the process we’ve got to try to follow.
“Psychologically you can really focus on the important stuff. You look at this from too far away, it’s too big a thing to look at - so chunk the game down and concentrate on the really basic, fundamental things that make us a good side and try to get that from the very beginning of the game.
“It’s certainly been the case in training this week. The boys have been fairly calm, fairly focused. Obviously you can get a bit edgy towards these games, I think that’s natural in any game, especially big games.
“We have to bottle that, hold our nerve and do what we’re good at.”