Cambridge United no longer ‘in awe’ of leading League One clubs as Sunderland head to the Abbey Stadium
Mark Bonner wants Cambridge United to maintain the form that has seen them hold their own against some of League One’s leading lights when Sunderland visit a sold-out Abbey Stadium on Saturday (November 27).
The U’s have not been phased by their step up to the next tier after last season’s promotion from League Two, with the small squad producing some impressive displays.
They have already drawn at home against Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan Athletic, and also beaten Portsmouth and Bolton, in what is a high calibre division this season.
“I speak every week about teams that were in the Premier League, teams that have massive squads or huge resources, or Championship-level squads - there are about 10 of them,” said U’s head coach Bonner.
“Everyone I speak to says it’s the toughest League One for years - I’ve got no reference point for that, you have to just go along with the people that have been in the league for a number of years that can say that.”
Sunderland’s last visit to the Abbey was in the League Cup in 2002, when they won 7-0.
They were then a Premier League side, and United were in what was then Division Three.
It was a similar story in midweek, with Wigan having won the FA Cup in 2013.
“You have to strip away the badge of the opposition quite often,” said Bonner.
“It’s 11 v 11 on the pitch, we’re capable of competing with everybody.
“I think the days of being a little in awe of teams in this league, we’ve just completely adjusted now. This is our level now, this is where we are.
“We’ve got to continue being competitive at this level. We’ve got to grow to beat these teams and be better than them.
“We’ve got to have an ambition that we keep building our club and try to compete at the top end of the table with these teams over time and that’s what we want to get to.
“Right now, it’s about just competing with them and going into games confident that we can and I think we’ve shown that in recent weeks against some of the teams we’ve played against.
“That’s the task of the weekend. It’s one to look forward to with a full Abbey Stadium, we've had that experience a couple of times earlier in the season.
“We have to make that work to our advantage.
“I think it’ll really crank up the atmosphere. I think their fans will probably be the best away following that we’ve had, in terms of noise, and I hope that really inspires ours to back us from minute nought to minute 90.”
Sunderland won seven, drew one and lost one of their first nine games of the season, but their form has been a bit more hit and miss in the last couple of months.
In their past two games, they beat Ipswich 2-0 at home and then, in midweek, drew 1-1 at Shrewsbury to sit sixth in the table.
“Sunderland started the season brilliantly,” said Bonner. “They have had a run of games that perhaps hasn’t gone as well as they thought, but you look at the league table and they are right in touch with the top which is where they’d expect to be.
“With 2,500 of their fans expecting to win on Saturday, they will come here expecting to win and needing the three points because that is the expectation and demand of the club.
“Ours is a bit different but it doesn’t mean we don’t expect to be competitive, it doesn’t mean we don’t think we can take points from it.
“We’re playing against another top side but we know on our day we can be a match for teams and we have to be that first, then we have to try to turn that into a point-scoring game.”
Lloyd Jones looks set to remain on the sidelines, having not yet joined in full training.
Shilow Tracey remains on the comeback trail to full fitness.
“We’ve got to get through Saturday as best we can,” said Bonner. “We will have to change lots of players around on Tuesday night for Walsall [in the Papa John’s Trophy] because we will have no option other than to do that. It will be an opportunity for others.”
He added: “This group that have played the last two games have done well and hit a really good level.
“We have to demand that out of them again this weekend and find a top level against a team that we know where they are, how close to the top they are and the expectations they’ve got.
“It will be the demanding nature of the game.”