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Mark Bonner cautious of the threat to Cambridge United posed by Crewe Alexandra

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Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner. Picture: Simon Lankester
Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner. Picture: Simon Lankester

Mark Bonner is bracing Cambridge United to face a confident Crewe Alexandra side with “the bit between their teeth” at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday (January 22).

The Railwaymen have got themselves out of the bottom two in the League One table after two wins, a draw and one defeat from their last four games.

United were put through the mill in the first half against bottom club Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night before eventually emerging 3-1 victors, and it is why the U’s head coach is cautious about reading anything into league positions, with Crewe currently 22nd.

“I think you look at a lot of teams at the minute, wherever they are,” said Bonner.

“We weren’t getting points in December when we were playing against a lot of the top sides, but performances were excellent and we were really scrapping and fighting to be in games.

“I don’t think any team is going to disappear. We saw that on Tuesday as Doncaster are scrapping and fighting, but they are not getting the point return that some of their performances have deserved recently.

“I have watched Crewe now quite a bit. I went to Portman Road just before Christmas and watched them play against Ipswich. It was a narrow defeat but they were really competitive in the game, and it was a really hard-fought game.

“Last Wednesday night, I went up to watch them play Charlton and they won that game and did well there. It was a solid point, 0-0, with Shrewsbury last weekend.

“They’ve got some good points and good performances and really clawed back what was a little bit of a gap.

“They are in a position where I think they’ve got confidence and the bit between their teeth. They’ve got a really good chance of continuing what they’ve turned around.

“Over the last couple of years, I think what Crewe have done brilliantly is what they do as a club, developed players and sold them on.

“They’ve lost some really key players in the squad and then they start a new cycle with quite a lot of younger players integrating into the first team, and development takes months and years, not weeks.

“It just takes time for people to find their feet and level. I think they’ve found it really well in recent weeks.

“They look like a really good side and are playing well. They are a possession team that likes the ball and have always been that way.

“They’ve got some good experience in the team, with Porter, Long, Mandron that can offer those little bits of experiences. Then the younger players probably don’t play with the fear that sometimes players might.

“I think there is plenty to be aware of going into this weekend in terms of what they offer, and they are in a good run of form going into it, as are we.”

Crewe’s model is one in which United aspires to create.

They develop players through their youth system and then sell them on to raise vital funds for the club, before recreating a new team.

It is a philosophy that is ingrained at Gresty Road.

Bonner saw that happen with United last season, when their promotion from League Two was followed by the departures of Paul Mullin, Kyle Knoyle and Luke Hannant.

“Last year we had a successful season and off the back of it we lost a couple of really important players so you have to really build a new team, and that cycle never ends,” he said.

“When you’re in a smaller club it’s just a consequence of any periods of success and sometimes what happens.

“I think you just have to understand where you are in the food chain and know that is part of it, and keep trying to rebuild and grow different teams.

“Dave Artell has done a really good job there. He is somebody I know well.

“We have done quite a few courses together, the LMA management diploma last year, the Pro Licence together this year. It will be good to see him.”

He added: “They’ve got a very clear culture and way of doing things at Crewe, and it’s certainly something I’ve said in the past that we can take things from ourselves.”

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