United opened their season in the best possible way with a convincing 2-0 win at Bristol Rovers this afternoon. Two first half goals, both superb in their execution, from Jake Forster-Caskey and Alfie Potter gave the U's all three points, backed up by a resilient second half defence of that lead.
Buoyed by beating Bournemouth in midweek United started very well with Jake Wright almost connecting with a diving header in the first minutes and Adam Chapman testing debutant keeper Sam Walker with a 25-yard shot after four minutes. Rovers had a couple of tame long range efforts for Ryan Clarke to field in the opening exchanges but the game was open and easy on the eye in the humid sunshine of a fine summer’s day.
Rovers did get the ball in the net after 16 minutes though Joe Anyinsah but the ball had already gone out as a deep free kick was headed back across the face of goal. That scare aside the back four were looking solid once again, and in attack United were looking dangerous and deservedly took the lead on 22 minutes with a great goal.
Patient build up with Chapman and Forster-Caskey working the ball forward for Rigg and Capaldi to continue ended with the Forster-Caskey picking the ball up on the right edge of the Rovers area. The on-loan Brighton youngster skipped inside past a half-hearted challenge and then unleashed a fierce dipping left footed shot beyond the reach of Walker and into the far corner of the net.
1-0 up afer quarter of the game the men in Yellow were looking good although Raynes picked up a second yellow card in two games for baulking Matt Harrold’s 27th minute run on goal, with Adam Virgo squandering the resulting free-kick. Tony Capaldi then collected a booking for lunging into a late challenge, but the fact that it was close to the Rovers goal line, 100 yards from Clarke’s goal perhaps tells a story as to where the game was mainly being played.
That was underlined on 32 as United doubled their lead. It’s perhaps unfair to win goal of the season in the first game but it will take something very special to top Potter’s goal. First he powered past right-back Michael Smith on half way, and then the Potter magic kicked on as he ran at the Rovers back line. They backpedalled, then came toward him, but a clever run by Constable took two defenders out of the way and Potter used that to dance to the right past another weak challenge and then sidefoot the ball past the helpless Walker from just inside the area. A magnificent goal and the first half of the first game of the season couldn’t really have gone much better.
As expected the second half saw Rovers come out determined to put things right after what must have been a roasting from boss Mark McGhee and it took a great save from Clarke to keep out Harrold on 50 as the striker for once got in behind the United defence. The Gas then had fifteen minutes where they dominated possession and penned the U’s back, but most of their football was played well in front of the United defence who remained largely unflustered.
Credit to the midfield for screening them during that period, with Lee Cox doing the jobs that Managers love but often go unnoticed, and Forster-Caskey, Chapman and then sub Simon Heslop closing men down and hounding their opponents despite the humidity and sunshine.
Sub Tom Craddock’s first action was to drive a 77th minute effort into the side netting but by then the hard work had largely been done and Rovers were visibly running out of ideas on how to break the visitors down.
Chris Wilder's men had shown two qualities which will be invaluable through the next nine months. Firstly they took their chances, clinically and at vital moments. Secondly every single player put in a real shift for the team and when they needed to they threw their bodies in the way of shots at goal. A proper team effort from a proper team.
The U's are next in action at home to Southend United on Tuesday evening. See you there.
Clarke, Batt, Capaldi, Raynes, Wright, Cox, Chapman (Heslop 64), Forster-Caskey, Potter (Craddock 72), Constable (Smalley 70), Rigg
Brown, McGinty, Pittman, Evans, Craddock
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher