Cambridge United captain Michael Morrison reflects on a positive October after picking up Love Cambridge Player of the Month award
October was a month in which Michael Morrison helped Cambridge United to increase their clean sheet tally for the season to eight.
No other team in England’s top four divisions – from the Premier League down to Sky Bet League Two – can either match or better that return of shut outs as calendars flicked over into November.
And yet, whenever the U’s skipper comes across supporters, it is unlikely that his defensive work will be the opening topic of conversation.
Instead the chat is likely to veer towards his goal in the 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury Town on October 14 when he picked the ball up just inside the opposition’s half, weaved his way beyond five defenders and then picked out the bottom corner with the sort of composure that any centre-forward would have been proud of.
It was a moment that made ‘Morrodona’ the nailed on recipient of the latest Love Cambridge Player of the Month award, which he picked up from Novi in the city centre’s Regent Street earlier this week.
“It wasn’t until I got into the box that I realised ‘hang on, I’m in the box and there’s a chance for me to score here’,” he said.
“It just kind of opened up on the left and George (Thomas) made a run across and I said to him when we’re sharing a lift: ‘What were you doing, you got in the way!’ And his goal the other week was a header, so we’ve both scored the type of goal you’d expect the other one to score.
“But it was a great feeling for me and it was my first goal since I came back so it was a real special moment.
“I don’t mind talking about it, it’s not every day you score a goal like that!”
All that being said, it is the work being done at the other end of the pitch that is source of great pride for the experienced centre-back, who returned to his boyhood club in January after 15 years away.
The 35-year-old has featured in all 16 of Cambridge’s Sky Bet League One fixtures so far this term, during which they have shipped 15 goals – only the top two teams (Portsmouth and Oxford United) have conceded less.
The challenge now is to improve their return going forward having found the back of the net on just 13 occasions – only five sides have scored less. It is a balancing act, but one that Morrison is confident will come good.
He said: “We’re built as a strong and organised team without the ball – and that goes throughout the whole team, not just us at the back.
“I think having the experience of me and Ryan (Bennett) does give some confidence. I might be a bit biased, but I’d like to think that it gives the team some reassurance.
“And then it comes down to the work we do on the training ground. We talk about pressing, our structure and the standards that we want to have off the ball.
“For us, as a team, when we look to grow, it’s can we match that in possession in terms of quality on the ball and creating more chances?
“I feel like we’ve got ourselves in a really good place with our off-the-ball work and we’re trying to match that on the ball.
“It’s the hardest part of the game, scoring goals. That’s why everybody wants a number nine.
“To be fair to Fe (Okenabirhie), he’s scored a decent number of goals this season with the game time that he’s had. Gassan (Ahadme) has been really good as well even if he hasn’t scored the number of goals he’d like.
“Sometimes we could have created better chances with our build up play in and around the box. We’ve had some counter-attacking positions when we’ve not made the most of the opportunities.
“At times it just comes down to having a game where it all clicks into place and we’re waiting for that to happen.
“That’s football – you get one part of the game right then you try to keep improving and (scoring goals) is something we clearly want to improve.
“We are working hard to do that and we are spending a lot of time in training on that side of the game. It’s something I think that will come to fruition as the season goes on because we’ve got a lot of really talented players and I think they’re ready to burst over the coming weeks.”
While Morrison credits the ‘structure’ and hard-working nature of the team for the impressive number of clean sheets, few would argue against the fact that it is his partnership with the aforementioned Ryan Bennett that provides the most solid of foundations.
Eyebrows may well have been raised when the pair – with a combined age of 68 – first came together in the heart of the U’s defence last winter. Could they deal with pacey forwards? Would they be too easy to get in behind? Those concerns, though, have frittered away.
“He’s a really calming influence. I know I can trust him and he’s a good voice telling me where he is, and me telling him where I am,” Morrison said of his understanding with the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City defender.
“The partnership is working well. We always laugh because some people might just think ‘get it in behind them’ but that’s easier said than done. We work together in cohesion with the full-backs and goalkeeper to make sure that isn’t too much of a weakness for us.
“Our experience and how we defend the box has been good. He made a great block the other day against Portsmouth – and that’s a real sign of the quality he’s got, he sees the danger. That’s something that is so hard to teach.
“He’s been fantastic since he came in and it must have been difficult because he came in and hadn’t played for six months. The fact that he’s knocking out so many games and playing so well is a credit to him.
“We’re comfortable within ourselves as defenders and naturally that means we can work well together.
“He likes to try to keep a high line and I work off that. I take the lead in set-pieces and sort out the line on those – we’ve just clicked on and off the pitch.
“And it’s always nice to have another old boy in the changing room as well!”
Of course, another clean sheet would be most welcome on Saturday (November 11) when Cambridge look to win a league match at bitter rivals Peterborough United for the first time since April 1990.
Morrison enjoyed the experience of the previous campaign’s success over Posh at the Abbey Stadium – one of many precious victories during the run-in as United preserved their third tier status against the odds.
Peterborough will be expected to enjoy the lion’s share of possession while Cambridge look to soak up the pressure and hit them on the counter-attack – tactics that perhaps play to both teams’ strengths.
Morrison said: “There’s a few of us that played in the home game last year and that was a great win.
“The lads loved it and it was brilliant for everyone, but it is still just three points. Especially with the situation we were in at that time, you looked at the league table after and quickly realised you needed to get another three points the next week.
“We probably couldn’t enjoy the win as much as we’d have liked, so if we can get the win this weekend, hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy it a bit more after the game.
“It’s a game where they can take possession and they’re at home. They’ll fancy themselves as much as we fancy ourselves. We’ve got threats that we think can hurt them.
“They’re always interesting games and a lot of the time they don’t necessarily pan out how you expect. It’s about us as defenders concentrating and then the attackers having the composure when the chances come.
“I wouldn’t like to gamble on who is going to be the winner or how the game is going to go because football doesn’t work like that, especially in derbies.”
What I Like About Cambridge
Q: What are you favourites places to visit and favourite things to do in Cambridge?
A: “I like the Chop House, that’s very nice for dinner and we went to Sticks’n’Sushi recently - we organised a night with the players and their partners - that was really good.
“We try to get around the city and do little bits, especially getting the new lads involved so they get to know the area.
“The new players don’t always know where to go and obviously I’ve been here a while so I try to point them in the right direction for food, places to live and that sort of thing.
“Punting is a must-do as well. We tried to organise that with the lads in the summer but it didn’t happen - we’ll have to sort it at some stage. It’s a great city, there’s plenty to do.”
Q: What does it mean to win an award that is voted by supporters?
A: “I probably nicked it (the award) by being part of a team that kept a few clean sheets at the back end of the month.
“And to score the goal, I was hoping that might be enough to beat Jack Stevens!
“I’m really proud of it. It’s nice to be acknowledged and it’s been a really good end to the month for everyone.”
Cambridge United has teamed up with Cambridge BID to give supporters the chance to vote for their Love Cambridge Player of the Month, supported by the Cambridge Independent. Sponsors Love Cambridge is part of Cambridge BID, a collaboration of 1,200 businesses working together to promote and improve the city of Cambridge.