Mark Bonner sees debutants shine for Cambridge United in Papa John’s Trophy win over Oxford United
Mark Bonner was delighted with the ease in which four debutants settled into the Cambridge United side that beat 10-man Oxford United 4-1 in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Goalkeeper Kai Mckenzie-Lyle and youngsters Liam Bennett, Mamadou Jobe and Kai Yearn all earned their first-team bows in the Group H clash.
It was a particularly memorable night for 16-year-old Yearn, a second-half substitute who grabbed the fourth and final goal to become the club’s youngest scorer in history.
He added to two first-half strikes from Sam Smith and a second-half effort from Harvey Knibbs, all of them coming from Ben Worman corners.
But head coach Bonner was not surprised by the way in which the four newcomers looked so at home in a side that had 10 changes from the team that beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in League One on Saturday, with only Paul Digby keeping his place.
“We say it all the time when players come in,” said Bonner. “Everyone says ‘oh wow, they’ve adjusted well’. It shouldn’t be a surprise anymore because our young players are good, and players that join us just know how we play and what we are.
“Every time we go on the pitch, we should look like a Cambridge United team, whoever plays in it, and we did, which is good.
“Kai Mckenzie-Lyle has waited a long time for his debut and played well, with some good saves in the first half. His distribution was very good.
“Liam Bennett has been with us a long time last season, and a lot of pre-season and Mamadou Jobe is the same, a lot of pre-season but missed a bit through Covid which set him back a little back, but those two have done really well.
“Kai Yearn has come on and was excellent, exactly what we expect from him. He has been training with us in bits and pieces.
“He has obviously been in with the England under-17s for a period of time in the summer as well, and I think we are the only Category 3 academy with a player in the England set-up.
“It’s another testament to us tonight, and I’m really pleased with all of those boys and all of those lads that made their debut.
“It’s easy to forget it was Jack Lankester’s first start for us; it’s very good and encouraging. We know what we’ve got there, we’ve got a brilliant player who is going to get better as he gets fitter.”
He added: “I’ve just said to the four boys that made their debuts tonight, we’ve just presented them with their shirts, and like you say to all of them all the time, make sure it’s not the last time you wear one.”
It was the goal from Yearn that was all the talk after the game, and understandably so given his place in the United history books.
But Bonner was keen to stress the development of all three of the youngsters and why raids on the transfer market have to be carefully considered in order to not inhibit the growth of homegrown players.
“He is obviously younger and scored so it gives you a really good starting point,” said Bonner of Yearn, “but Liam Bennett was excellent, Mamadou Jobe was excellent and Ben Worman goes unnoticed but is another young boy that turned 20 yesterday and has still got bags and bags of potential and growing to do.
“When you see people like Ben and Kai, we don’t want to sign another attacking midfield player because we think we’ve got some younger ones that we need to make sure there is a pathway for as they are not far away from contributing to our team regularly.”