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Cambridge United boss Mark Bonner looking to build on strong Mansfield display when away specialists Cheltenham Town visit in top three clash




Mark Bonner says his Cambridge United table-toppers will be prepared for another fiercely contested battle when fellow Sky Bet League Two promotion contenders Cheltenham Town visit the Abbey tomorrow evening (Tuesday, 7pm).

A last-gasp goal from top scorer Paul Mullin secured a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw in Gloucestershire on November 24.

And head coach Bonner is expecting another big performance will be required from his side if they are to back up Saturday's impressive return to winning ways in a 3-0 success at Nigel Clough's much-improved Mansfield Town.

Mark Bonner in action for Cambridge United against Colchester United. Picture: Simon Lankester (44007892)
Mark Bonner in action for Cambridge United against Colchester United. Picture: Simon Lankester (44007892)

"I think the game against Cheltenham earlier in the season was a really good one actually, quite a fiery game with lot's of action and drama late on in both halves," he said at today's pre-match press conference.

"We deserved something from it. We started really well and were aggrieved by the goal we scored just before half-time and were delighted we got the equaliser late on.

"It was just a really good standard of game that night and it is no surprise to see Cheltenham (currently third) going well because they have done for over six months since I've taken over.

Cheltenham Town visit the Abbey tomorrow night (7pm) in a key clash in the Sky Bet League Two promotion race
Cheltenham Town visit the Abbey tomorrow night (7pm) in a key clash in the Sky Bet League Two promotion race

"He's (Cheltenham manager Micahel Duff) had a really good run with them and they'll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, no doubt. Their defensive record is very good and we are certainly expecting a tough evening and a really difficult game.

"But I'm sure they are as well. We've got ourselves in a position though where we can consider ourselves a tough game for people but we have to continue finding the levels we have and we have to carry on from where we left off on Saturday which was a really strong performance."

Five points currently separate the pair in the table with third-placed Robins holding two games in hand over The U's but having seen that gap to the summit increase as a result of their 2-0 home to in-form Bradford City on Saturday. It brought to an end an eight-game unbeaten run for former Burnley multiple-Premier League promotion winner Duff's side.

"We need to go into tomorrow's game understanding how tough it will be and how hard we will have to work; how aggressive we will need to be, how well we will need to defend our box against some direct play against long throws and corners and all those things that come up," said Bonner.

Hiram Boateng will not be involved tomorrow eveningPicture: Simon Lankester
Hiram Boateng will not be involved tomorrow eveningPicture: Simon Lankester

"But also to make sure that we carry our own threats and bring our attacking players into the game and bring opportunities for the boys that have been scoring goals to keep going that.

"So it is a nice test and a nice challenge and we have to keep rising to those as best we can."

Liam O'Neil made an impressive return to action for Cambridge United at the weekendPicture: Simon Lankester
Liam O'Neil made an impressive return to action for Cambridge United at the weekendPicture: Simon Lankester

Commenting on their ability to play with a balanced style, he said: "They've added some pace to the team; Alfie May has been a real threat for them, Sam Smith's gone in and done well and gives them a new dimension to perhaps earlier in the season where they've got real speed up the pitch.

"Look, they gave Man City a game so they can't be too bad, so we've got to make sure we're on the best of our game to try and be competitive in it and try to take something with it. And to try and keep competing with and against teams whose expectations are to be promoted and be up there.

"We are trying to see if this can be the first season in a while where we can stick around the area of the league we find ourselves in and we've got to do it against teams that have consistently done that, so that adds its own pressure and expectation in some respects. But for us this is a new journey and a new adventure for us and we've got to try and embrace it and enjoy it, as much as we can."

Regarding team news, he confirmed there were no problems from Saturday's game but said it would be too soon for U's fans to see midfielders Hiram Boateng or Paul Digby return from their recent injuries.

"Hiram's not quite ready yet but he's close. Paul Digby is out running again today but he's not quite ready yet, so again we will try and integrate him," he said.

"They're both on the grass working so they'll be fit when they're fit and as soon as they are that's great for us as we'll make the most use of when they're available but I won't put a time on when that is at the moment."

Liam O'Neil's return to the side on Saturday saw him provide one of the goals and end up being named in the League Two Team of The Week along with the U's Harrison Dunk.

But he could well drop out of the team for tomorrow along with veteran Irishman Wes Hoolan, as Bonner looks to manage minutes in a gruelling schedule over the next month.

The head coach said: "I think you have got to be careful with all those players that have a sudden return to games and we've got to make sure we manage the whole batch of midfield players we've got over the next month where we've got six games in three weeks now to try and make sure we keep everyone fit at the end of that block, so how we manage Liam will be important."

But Tottenham Hotspur loanee Shilow Tracey could come into the reckoning, with the young midfielder having trained today following tweaking his hamstring in last Tuesday's reserve game.

Cheltenham go into the game with the second best away record in the league so far this season, having taken 25 points from 14 games, while United hold the joint best home form with 29 points from 15 games.

Before the evening kick-off a young reserves side will take on Steveange with an afternoon kick-off.

Read more: All the latest Cambridge United news



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