Frustration for Cambridge United as dominance goes unrewarded
Portsmouth launch smash and grab
You could not escape the sense of frustration at the Cambs Glass Stadium on Saturday.
Cambridge United had been the better side against Portsmouth only to suffer a smash-and-grab raid by the south coast side, who took all three points with a 1-0 win.
Shaun Derry, his players and the fans alike were all left frustrated that the U’s took nothing from a match they dominated.
And perhaps exacerbating that frustration for supporters was that Portsmouth had 10 men for the last half-hour after Amine Linganzi was sent off for a reckless challenge on Conor Newton.
But once the immediacy of those first few hours after the final whistle had subsided, people will have hopefully tried to look at the positives from the performance for the U’s.
Their recent form has shown what they are capable of and that ability has been evident as they are not being dominated by any teams.
Plenty has been said of the lack of goals from the strikers, but if questions are needed, then perhaps the right one to ask is how many clear-cut chances are created.
No-one can question their efforts though, and it just feels as if there is a desperation to impress at home, and that means when half-chances come their way they are rushing their efforts rather than acting on instinct.
Take the huge work rate of Uche Ikpeazu, who chased every lost cause and was a handful for Portsmouth centre-backs Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess.
Ben Williamson ran the channels and was a menace when he came on for the injured Adam McGurk, and the only opportunity he had – after some questionable defending – went narrowly wide.
The problem is that the U’s are getting very few rewards, or that slice of luck, for all their hard work.
In the first half, the ball pinballed around the Portsmouth area after Ikpeazu had made a nuisance of himself and a scuffed clearance could easily have gone in off a defender but somehow missed his back and reached the touchline.
Then, in the second half, James Dunne had an effort from 20 yards that took a wicked deflection and with Portsmouth keeper David Forde having no idea where the ball had gone, it dropped over the bar.
When teams are free-scoring, both those chances go in. When a team is having to work so hard for any goals, the ball stays out of the net – and even on their good run of form that is the situation that United are currently finding.
You can also throw into the mix a penalty appeal from Ikpeazu in the first half, which on another day would have been given to United.
The biggest disappointment will probably be that United conceded the only goal of the game from a hopeful long ball.
Burgess launched a diagonal ball into the box and Conor Chaplin got in between Leon Legge and Brad Halliday to loop a header past Will Norris in the 24th minute.
It was their first effort on goal, and they only had one other chance on target all match, which came five minutes later from Kyle Bennett.
That, if nothing else, should tell a story, and is why there were quite a few positives.
Largely, United look resolute and difficult to break down, with each player instinctively knowing the position of their team-mate and where they need to be in order to create two banks of four.
They were tidy and controlled in possession, and were on the front foot to take the game to one of the division’s leading promotion contenders.
Of course, Linganzi’s sending off opened the door for United, but if anything, it also gave Portsmouth an excuse to sit even deeper, with the two central midfield players almost alongside the two centre-backs in the last 20 minutes.
In that final third, there was no space for United to exploit as Portsmouth did not venture far off the edge of their area and instead the hosts were having to whip in the crosses, which played into the hands of Clarke and Burgess.
And try as they might, United could not create a clear-cut opportunity to grab an equaliser, leaving the manager to express his frustration at the result.
“You can clearly see I’m frustrated,” said Derry. “It’s the frustration coming through, I’m not angry.
“There’s no anger in the way that I’ve looked upon my team this afternoon. It’s just that I know that, especially the first-half performance, we’re a lot better than that.
“And we’ve shown in the second half that when we take the game to the opposition we’re a match for anybody, that’s what we’ve seen this afternoon.
“I’m disappointed but I’ve seen my side really put on a good run of results over the past two months and I know we have the capability to do it again.
“We responded after the Grimsby loss with a really good display against Exeter, now we have to respond again next week.
“The good thing about this level and this league is we know we can compete with the best teams.
“In between both boxes, I thought there was one team that was really playing on the front foot.
“We’re disappointed with the goal we conceded in our box and we’re a little disappointed that we haven’t managed to test the goalkeeper a little bit more in theirs.”