Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
It’s here at last: the opening day of the season, but unusually for us we’ve got quite a trek to see Kevin Wilkin’s side kick off the campaign.
This is the first time we’ve begun a Conference season with an away match, and we travel down to Dartford looking to defend an unbeaten first day record at this level.
In six seasons we’ve kicked off with a win five times. The only time we’ve dropped points at the start of the season was three years ago when Andy Morrell opened the scoring but an injury time equaliser earned Cambridge a 1-1 draw.
Our last two seasons started against freshly promoted sides, and the contrasting natures of our victories reflected how our fortunes would pan out. Two seasons ago a confident side began a campaign that would end with two trips to Wembley with a comfortable 3-1 win over Woking, thanks to goals from Rob Ogleby, Dean Keates and Mark Creighton.
It’s seven years since we started the season with a defeat, when we lost 2-0 at Darlington. However, our record when we start the season with an away game is in stark contrast to when we kick off at The Racecourse. Our last away win on the first day was back in 1988 when Graham Cooper and Kevin Russell got the goals in a 2-0 win at Exeter City. To be fair, we’ve started a lot more seasons at home than away since then-eighteen of our last twenty four first days were at home-but we haven’t won in seven subsequent away openers.
Our record at Dartford is mixed to say the least. Our first visit there, in March 2013, saw our tilt at the Conference title falter as we crashed to a 2-1 loss. Perhaps we were distracted by the looming prospect of a trip to Wembley for the FA Trophy final, but we started well as Danny Wright opened the scoring. We were still in the lead with a quarter of an hour left, but only thanks to the heroics of Chris Maxwell in goal, and eventually he was beaten by Jack Evans. Things got worse in injury time when Eliot Bradbrook struck the winner.
Last season we achieved a measure of revenge with an impressive 5-1 win. Admittedly, things could have gone rather differently as we conceded in the third minute and would have been further behind had it not been for a spectacular save by Andy Coughlin.
We shrugged off that poor start to wallop Dartford though, as Brett Ormerod helped himself to two goals, Clarke launched in a beauty from outside the box and Rob Ogleby snatched one too. However, perhaps the most memorable goal was a cheeky free kick by Johnny Hunt, who clipped the set piece over the wall as the goalkeeper stood on the wrong post lining his men up.