Your eagerly anticipated Andrew Bennett match report ...
“What a player is Crane!” (1949)
Every football club has its legends, but not many have one who lived near its ground for 87 of his 90 years, played in seven different positions in five different leagues, made his first team debut at the age of 15 and stayed at the club for 18 years while holding down a day job at Marshall’s, leaving only to fight for his country during the Second World War as a teenager, scored 42 goals in 37 games during his most prolific season, scored the club’s first ever goal in the Southern League, and turned down lucrative moves to Peterborough and Ipswich out of loyalty to the club he loved.
Cambridge United was privileged to have Russell Crane as just such a legend, and after a career in which he amassed 186 goals in 502 matches between 1941 and 1959, his recent passing was marked today by a moving tribute before kick-off as a minute’s applause was held, accompanied by the song which marked so many of those goals: “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts.” The Abbey will never see his like again.
“Time after time he left the back standing by clever football, and his centres were always well placed.” (1943)
Russell’s last season at the club coincided with the first in which they met Yeovil Town, in the Southern League of 1958-59, although he did not play against the Glovers that term. Now the clubs once again find themselves at the same level of football for the first time in 11 years. Yeovil made a dreadful start to the season but have hauled themselves out of trouble under new boss Darren Way and had lost just one of their last 11 games, having won their last four all by the margin of one goal to nil.
Their squad today included two former U’s strikers on the bench, Ryan Bird and Shaun Jeffers, who were joined amongst the substitutes by most recent signing Leroy Lita. A creditable away following of 265 followed the men in green from deepest darkest Somerset, which is a hell of a journey on a tractor.
United line-up: Norris; Furlong, Legge, Coulson, Haynes; Ledson, Dunne; Ismail, Berry, Dunk; Williamson
On the bench: Beasant, Omozusi, Roberts, O’Neill, Horne, Simpson, Spencer
The match got off to a sensational start with United taking the lead inside four minutes. The architect of the goal was Josh Coulson, who picked up possession in his own half then strode, Beckenbauer-like, past a plethora of green and white striped shirts before laying it off to Harrison Dunk. Coulson continued his run into the penalty area and Dunk found him with a low cross, Josh flicked on, and there was Ben Williamson to bury it into the net from ten yards. 1-0.
United’s perfect start became even better six minutes later. Referee Swabey awarded a free-kick to the U’s near halfway, Everton loanee Liam Walsh became rather overexcited and James Dunne tried to calm him down, only to receive a push in the face, right in front of the man in black. He had no choice but to send Walsh off, as foolish a red card as you could wish to see. Daft ha’porth.
The scene looked set for a siege on the visitors’ goal, but United’s response was rather more measured as they declined to go gung-ho and instead concentrated on retaining possession and letting the ball do the work. Wide men Dunk and Zeli Ismail looked the most threatening, both regularly making positive forward runs and whipping crosses into the box, but the team lacked a target man to take advantage of such balls with Williamson roaming too much away from the middle and Luke Berry not at his best in support, while Dunne and Ryan Ledson looked comfortable in the holding positions but offered little in an attacking sense.
Yeovil, meanwhile, responded gamely, their heads not dropping, but their forays into the home box were few and far between and Will Norris remained as unemployed as the unfortunates who have just had their disability benefits cut (writes Iain Duncan Smith, the Voice of the Underdog – or is that Joe Pasquale?).
“The highlight was a brilliant individual goal from Crane, who received the ball in his own half before beating man after man and finishing in style.” (1948)
Just before the half hour the visitors picked up two bookings in two minutes, Marc Laird fouling Darnell Furlong and Ben Tozer bringing down Dunne, and following the latter, Ismail’s 20-yard free-kick was well saved by keeper Artur Krysiak. For the most part, though, the hosts’ build-up play did not correspond to much of a threat in the final third, Dunne well wide of the target with a shot on 36 and Ledson nodding into Krysiak’s arms seven minutes later.
The U’s finally added to their tally, though, in added time. Yeovil lost possession midway into their own half, Ismail fed Dunk and he made a characteristic run to the byline and crossed low into the Corridor of Uncertainty; Krysiak got a flailing touch but could not stop it running across the box to the foxy Williamson, who prodded home from close range at the far post. 2-0.
“His marksmanship and working of the ball bore the hallmark of class and the opposing defence never knew what he was going to do next.” (1949)
Yeovil decided to go for broke after the break and introduced Ryan Bird for Kevin Dawson, but it could have been three-nil within two minutes of the restart when another fine run from Dunk culminated in a cross which seemed perfect to set up Williamson for his hat-trick, but the merest touch from a defender just took it away from him as he swung his boot.
Dunne was then booked for a silly pull-back on Nathan Smith and Yeovil enjoyed a decent spell of possession. Harry Cornick found Norris’ gloves with a 30-yarder, then Bournemouth loanee Brandon Goodship chipped onto the roof of the net. Up the other end Dunk crossed for Williamson to head into Krysiak’s arms and just before the hour Ryan Dickson was next into the book for a foul on Dunne.
“His footwork baffled the opposing defence and his shooting was beautifully timed.” (1949)
Bird then almost darted through the middle but was eventually crowded out, Coulson was harshly carded for a challenge in which he appeared to have won the ball, and Dunne was replaced by Jimmy Spencer as United changed to a 4-4-2 formation. Now the hosts were in the ascendant again as Berry had a shot blocked on 66, and Cornick was withdrawn in favour of Jack Compton for the visitors. Ismail had a left-footed thunderbolt well tipped over on 74 as it headed for the top corner, then Williamson found the net from yet another Dunk cross but was ruled narrowly offside. Ryan Haynes, enjoying freedom to forage forward, made one tremendous individual run into the heart of the penalty area only to be crowded out at the last moment.
“United secured a 3-3 draw thanks to Russell Crane, who scored two long-range thunderbolts, including a forty-yard free-kick, and made the third for Hipkin.” (1950)
Leroy Lita came on for Goodship with a quarter of an hour to go, and Compton drew a comfortable save from Norris with a shot from the edge of the box, while on 81 Furlong made a run into the area but was booked for diving when he tumbled under Smith’s challenge by a referee who was not especially well placed to see. Ismail then crossed to the far post where Spencer tried to improvise a volley but fired over from a narrow angle.
United now looked reasonably comfortable, but even at this late stage a Yeovil goal would have created a few collywobbles. Those were dispelled three minutes from time when Dunk got down the left once again and crossed to the far post; Spencer’s header was well parried by Krysiak, but it went straight back to the big striker and he slid it straight back past the keeper and into the far corner from an acute angle. 3-0.
“The match was so one-sided that when Crane made it 4-0 before half-time, he went up to the Symington’s goalkeeper to shake his hand in commiseration.” (1951)
There was still time for Norris to save acrobatically from a Compton long-ranger and to block a Darren Ward header from a corner, then it was all over and, perhaps uniquely but extremely fittingly, “Coconuts” boomed out over Barnwell for the second time that afternoon.
United’s victory had been obtained professionally rather than spectacularly, but it keeps them within touching distance of those tantalising playoff places, which continue to tease us with a swish of their swinging skirts. Russell would have approved of the team’s cool finishing and exciting, speedy wing play; let us hope the team does him proud for the rest of the season.
“At the final whistle United’s ecstatic fans stormed the pitch and chaired Crane off to a rousing chorus of “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” (1952)
This season has seen United take their first ever home or away points from Yeovil in the Football League, having won 3-2 at Huish Park in October. The clubs had only met in the League in two previous seasons before this one and Yeovil won all four matches, 2-1 at home and 5-3 away in 2004-05 and 4-1 home and away in 2003-04; they also won 1-0 at the Abbey in the FA Cup during 1987-88.
The clubs also competed together for ten seasons in the Southern League in the 1950s and 1960s. United won four, drew three and lost three of their home games, but won only once away, losing all the other nine matches.
Liam Walsh’s red card today was the first sending-off in a United game this season since 17th October last year, when Northampton’s Lawson D’Ath was dismissed in the Cobblers’ 2-1 defeat at the Abbey. This season’s totals so far are three for U’s players (Dunk, Dunn, Roberts) and four for the opposition. Walsh is the first player ever to be sent off in a United/Yeovil match.
Jimmy Spencer is the fourth United player to score in two consecutive League games this season, after Barry Corr, Ben Williamson and Luke Berry.
Williamson has scored 9 goals in 19 games for United this season, making it his most prolific season ever in the Football League. Last term he scored 6 League goals for Port Vale, and in previous seasons he scored five, eight and three times respectively. He also scored three times in the League Cup and once in the FA Cup last season, so he needs one more to equal his all-competitions season’s record.
Jimmy Spencer has notched four times this season. He only scored once last season for Notts County, and during 2013-14 he claimed five goals for County and one on loan to Scunthorpe while on the books of Huddersfield.
Ryan Bird scored nine goals in 12 starts plus one game as sub for United in all competitions while on loan from Portsmouth during 2013-14, then scored six times in 11 starts plus 17 as sub after he signed permanently the following term before his release. Shaun Jeffers made just two substitute appearances for the U’s while on loan from Coventry during the 2010-11 season.
Will Norris has kept four clean sheets in 12 League matches this season, equalling the season’s total of Chris Dunn, who played in 11 games (he was sent off after 53 minutes at Wycombe). Norris has conceded 10 goals, Dunn conceded fourteen. Sam Beasant has kept just two clean sheets in 14 starts plus one as sub, and let in 24 goals.
“Crane grabbed the winner when he outpaced the defence to a through ball, clipped it over the keeper’s head as he advanced, beat full-back Diver to the ball and passed it into the empty net.” (1952)
Norris 8. Always looked safe and in control.
Furlong 8. Lively and alert.
Legge 8. Colossal as ever.
Coulson 9. Solid and at times inspired.
Haynes 9. Exemplary performance.
Ismail 8. Unfailingly positive and dangerous.
Ledson 7. Competent effort.
Berry 7. OK although nowhere near his best.
Dunne 7. Neat and tidy.
Dunk 8. Constant source of surging runs and decent crosses and created two goals.
Williamson 8. Not really suited to a lone striker role in the current formation, but took his goals well.
Spencer 7. Did not make as much impact as one might have hoped for, good finish for his goal.
“Saward jinked his way as far as the penalty spot, a quick back-heel and Crane was there to drive first time into the net. It was the type of goal the City wouldn’t get if they played until they had beards down their knees.” (1958)
An early dismissal for Yeovil and an even earlier goal for United made for a reasonably comfortable afternoon for the U’s, and although they were not as ruthless or clinical as one might have hoped, it was a professional performance with the desired result. At this stage of the season, that is all that counts.
Man of the Match
Ryan Haynes. Proof positive that young loan players need a good run of games to settle into the side, Ryan really blossomed today with solid, decisive defending and a helping of good forward marauding to boot.
Swabey 5. No arguments with the red card which was right under his nose, but flung around far too many unnecessary yellow ones.
Soundtrack of the Day
Last Shadow Puppets “Everything You’ve Come To Expect”
“If Abbey United are fortunate enough to win the East Anglian Cup this season, the name of Russell Crane should be engraved upon it in gilt letters. For it was the fighting spirit of this human dynamo of an inside-forward when Abbey were a goal down after two minutes which largely inspired his team to a one-goal victory. Revealing all the menace of an angry wasp, Crane buzzed and harassed his way among the visiting defenders in a tireless pattern which did much to put a top-gear on the winning trail by half-time.” (1949)