Cambridge United Season Preview: Derry’s impact

cambridgeIn the last three years, Cambridge United have gone from finishing 14th in the Conference to ninth in League Two. It is no surprise, therefore, that fans now target at least a strong play-off challenge. Can they get into the top seven this year? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Chris Vessey to find out.

Derry came in at a difficult time last season. What do you feel he did to turn results around?

Pretty much everything Richard Money didn’t do! He unified the squad, brought in some good players, played attractive attacking (mostly!) football and gave the fans an enjoyable team to watch which we didn’t have for the last few months of Money’s reign. He was like a breath of fresh air.

A lot of your best players in the second half of last season – Darnell Furlong, Ryan Ledson, Max Clark and Zeli Ismail – were all on loan. Are you concerned that three of those players so far haven’t returned?

Not at all. The loan deals we made last season were a necessity to play ahead of the poor players recruited by the previous management team. They were never going to be for the long term or a chance of permanent signings, especially the likes of Ledson and Furlong who will clearly go on to play at a much higher level than League Two.

The one player who has come back is Clark. With fellow left-back Blair Adams re-united with Derry, do you expect to have strong competition in that area?

Derry specifically stated when we captured Clark that he was signed specifically as a central midfielder, so i would expect him to play there for the majority. Along with the first choice of Blair Adams – Greg Taylor and Harrison Dunk are equally comfortable at left-back so that position is very well catered for this season!

Your defensive record improved after January, when goalkeeper Will Norris came into the team and centre-back Josh Coulson regained his place. Were these the key factors for you?

Absolutely massive. The two biggest weak links of our side before Christmas were the goalkeeper Chris Dunn and central defender Mark Roberts. I’m sure both players were good players in the past but unfortunately we seemed to have got them whilst they were past their best! Norris is an excellent young prospect, very confident and plays with a maturity beyond his years. I’ve seen for myself the large number of Championship and Premier League scouts coming to watch him. Coulson is a solid League Two defender who struck up a great partnership with Leon Legge and things instantly improved.

Centre-back Leon Legge was Player of the Season last year in the eyes of many. Do you like his aerial prowess?

Yes and not just that. His positioning, strength and tackling are also favourites! He lacks pace but more than makes up for it with strong abilities in all other areas of defending. He’s a proper leader too. Swept the board for the ‘Player of the Year’ trophies and no one was surprised.

Left winger Harrison Dunk caused a few problems last season with his pace and trickery. Are you pleased he has another two years on his contract?

Very pleased. It took a long time for the Club to thrash out a deal with Dunk to make sure he remained a U’s player and it was one of my biggest worries. Excellent wingers with the consistency of Dunk are very rare at this level so it was quite a relief when he signed his contract extension.

Luke Berry looks a creative midfielder. Do you think he got better after Derry came in? Did he benefit from the mid-season arrival of ball-winner James Dunne?

He improved tenfold under Derry. Under Money he was being played out of position and looked rather uncomfortable. When Derry came in he played most of his football behind the strikers and repaid him with goals, assists and good performances. It was also a help to have a proper defensive midfielder in James Dunne behind him. He has been the unsung hero of the midfield.

Piero Mingoia has been excellent for Accrington Stanley over the last couple of seasons. An exciting addition?

Piero was a player i’ve seen for the last couple of seasons and thought ‘i’d love to see him at Cambridge United…’ and finally i can! Already in pre-season friendlies he’s impressed with his eye for goal and crossing ability. As soon as Barry Corr is fit and ready to return he will be licking his lips when he sees Mingoia on the ball! I’d say he’s the most eyebrow-raising signing we’ve made for a long time.

New striker Joe Pigott didn’t do too much at Luton and is sometimes criticized for not offering much in the build-up play. Have you got forwards who can create chances for other players?

Pigott has actually impressed well in pre-season, which of course isn’t any guarantee he’ll be any good, but it’s a start. My Luton-supporting friend said he had a slow start but as soon as he scored his first goal his confidence came flooding back and he played well. We also have Ben Williamson who was a fine signing and chipped in with assists. New signings Adam McGurk will be looking to get his career back on track too after a poor spell at Pompey.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Carlisle stand out for me as having recruited really well and seem to have the players ready for a promotion push. I never really rated Keith Curle before but he seems a good fit for the Cumbrians and has done well there. The usual suspects like Portsmouth, Plymouth and co. will be up there too. There’s always one team that nobody picks that does well so it could be anyone of the so-called minnows!

Where will you finish?

I’m always wary of getting too excited or carried away for fear of disappointment so all I’ll say is I think we’ll be knocking on the door of the play-offs coming into the last few weeks of the season…

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Shaun Derry has re-energized Cambridge and renewed optimism among fans. Play-off chances hinge on the return of key loanees – and Corr from injury. 8th