For a scrappy game at the Abbey Stadium with very little goalmouth action, there was a surprising number of talking points for the game between Cambridge United and Portsmouth. Conor Chaplin scored the only goal of the game when he headed home Christian Burgess’ long ball into the penalty area in the first half. There were not too many other clear chances during the match, with Ben Williamson wasting the best chance for the hosts when he dragged his shot wide of the post under pressure from Burgess in the second half. Pompey had to hold on to secure the three points after Amine Linganzi was given a straight red card for a two-footed tackle with about half an hour remaining, but the visitors defended resiliently to claim a vital win on the road. Here is my view of some of the key moments from the match.
Chaplin is becoming the complete striker
For a long time – and probably with good reason – Conor Chaplin has been known as the sort of player who is able to pop up in front of goal and score tap-ins, often doing very little off the ball and being a slightly one dimensional player. However, the striker’s recent form is enough to suggest that this is changing: he has been working very hard out of possession, being a constant pest to opposition defences, and his goal against Cambridge is his second headed goal of the season. This is testament to the fact that Chaplin’s entire game is improving and shows how good an asset he is becoming for Pompey. Unfortunately, it will also make him even more attractive for clubs in higher leagues, but we will have to deal with that in January.
Pompey’s defence is better than the stats suggest
The fact that Pompey had to play for half an hour with a man fewer than their opponents meant that they spent a fair portion of the closing stages camped in their own half. Under these circumstances, many would expect Pompey’s defence to crumble under the constant pressure but they managed to hold firm and repel the many attacks from the home side. Matt Clarke came back into the starting eleven and he and Christian Burgess were immense at keeping the Cambridge forwards in check. They were also helped by David Forde in goal, who took the pressure off the defence by coming out and claiming many a long ball into the box. Although the defence needs to perform more consistently, these are positive signs for the Blues.
Ikpeazu is a danger to defences
One thing that was evident right from the start of the game to Pompey fans was that Cambridge’s striker, Uchechukwu Ikpeazu, was causing real problems to Pompey’s defenders. At 6 ft 5, Christian Burgess is no physical pushover and Matt Clarke must only be a couple of inches shorter than him, yet Ikpeazu was getting the better of both of them in the air for long periods of the game. Burgess was often having to double up on Ikpeazu with Enda Stevens in order to contain him, and there were several occasions where it looked like he would score. After about five minutes, he had to be brought down just outside the penalty area by Matt Clarke to stop the Nigerian creating a clear goalscoring opportunity. The one thing I felt was disappointing about the U’s number 26 was how regularly he went down under very little physical pressure in order to try and win free kicks. I know it is part and parcel of modern football, but with his physical prowess Ikpeazu could really become a force to be reckoned with if he used his strength to its potential.
Linganzi saw red
However little football fans like to accept decisions that go against their team, Amine Linganzi’s red card cannot be disputed. It was an instance where nostalgic fans will talk about how ‘it wouldn’t have been a red card 30 years ago’, as he got the ball perfectly and didn’t go into the challenge with excessive force, but lunged into the tackle with both feet. Unfortunately that is simply not allowed in the modern game and there can be no complaints over whether the card was deserved. There was no chance of Linganzi’s opponent being injured but those sorts of tackles always look worse than they are so Linganzi can have had no complaints.
Cambridge need a poacher
Throughout the match, but especially after Cambridge had their man advantage, the hosts found themselves creating lots of chances which they were unable to finish off. The number of balls which went across the Pompey box late in the game was ridiculous, with the defenders only being able to deal with so many of them. However, for all the crosses that came in, very few of them led to goalscoring chances and the hosts surely would have equalised if they had a striker who had a knack for scoring goals. Adam McGurk found himself substituted after half an hour having made very little impact on the match, Ikpeazu was a handful but was more effective at creating chances than putting them away, and Ben Williamson missed the hosts’ best chance when he dragged his shot wide from inside the penalty area.
These are some of the main talking points of what was, in truth, a fairly quiet match. However, I’m sure that no Pompey fans will care about anything other than the three points, while Cambridge can be quietly confident of picking up points in future after matching one of the better sides in the league over the 90 minutes. Hopefully both sides can take positives from the match as they go into their encounters against Dover and Wycombe next weekend in the FA Cup first round.