U’s looking to address poor away form against promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday


A side looking to address their poor away form would probably not be looking forward to a trip to Hillsborough.

After a lacklustre start to life in League One, Sheffield Wednesday have finally managed to establish themselves as promotion contenders. The Owls have clawed their way to within two points of the top six, and fans are hopeful that they can finish the season in the playoffs and make an immediate return to the Championship.

Their success is largely down to their home form. Darren Moore’s side have the fourth best home record in the division, racking up 37 points from their 17 games at Hillsborough so far this season, losing just twice. Those two defeats came against Oxford United and Rotherham United, with the former now looking nailed on for a top six finish and the latter the firm favourites to win the League One title.

To put it simply, it’s not easy to win at Hillsborough. Only the top sides in the division have remained competitive against the Owls on their home turf, and any team with a poor away record will dread the prospect of a trip to North-West Sheffield.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a nightmare fixture for Cambridge United.

The U’s are sat comfortably in mid-table, occupying 13th place in the league. Their 13-point cushion on the bottom four makes relegation nigh-on impossible with just ten games remaining, but it also feels incredibly unlikely that they’ll be closing the gap on any of the bigger teams above them.

Mark Bonner will be very happy with his side’s season so far, especially having addressed the drop off in form that they suffered at the start of February. One issue that remains, however, is their poor away form, with Cambridge having won just one away game in the league in 2022.

The sole victory came against Lincoln City at the LNER Stadium, with the U’s riding an immense wave of momentum at the time after eliminating Newcastle United and Portsmouth from the FA Cup and Papa John’s Trophy respectively. That run would continue through the rest of the January as they racked up victories against their then relegation rivals on home soil, beating the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Crewe Alexandra.

While Cambridge’s form at The Abbey has remained impressive, winning away from home has been an issue. Draws away at Fleetwood Town and Burton Albion are far from disastrous, especially with the U’s having to come from behind twice in the latter. However, defeats at Bolton Wanderers, Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers have certainly instilled some nerves ahead of a demanding run-in.

The main concern comes from the fact that Cambridge have failed to be competitive across those three games, losing them 2-0, 4-2 and 3-0 respectively. While the U’s led twice against Oxford and did look capable of coming away with a positive result, it can’t be ignored that they still conceded four goals at the Kassam Stadium and failed to lay a glove on Bolton or Wycombe.

As one of the smaller clubs in the division they wouldn’t necessarily be expected to do that, but given how difficult Cambridge’s final fixtures are, it will certainly be something Bonner will want to address.

The U’s still have to make trips to Ipswich Town, Wigan Athletic and Sunderland before the end of the season, all of whom are vying for either automatic promotion or a playoff place. While a bottom four finish is almost certainly out of the question, fans won’t want their side to drift down the table and finish the campaign in poor form.

The return of key players from injury should help Cambridge avoid that. Lloyd Jones and Shilow Tracey, both of whom suffered long-term injuries earlier in the season, have returned to full fitness and started games in recent weeks. The same can be said of Joe Ironside, who suffered a seemingly serious ankle injury in January but made a rapid recovery to return to the U’s squad against Wycombe at the start of March.

Greg Taylor, Jack Iredale and Jensen Weir all remain sidelined, with Bonner admitting that the latter may not return from parent club Brighton & Hove Albion this season, where he’s still receiving treatment. But overall, Cambridge’s squad looks much healthier and boasts fairly significant depth across the pitch.

This has meant that the likes of Jack Lankester, Ben Worman and Lorent Tolaj have had limited opportunities in the first team, with the latter yet to make a single start since joining the club on loan from Brighton at the end of January. But with a nightmare run-in on the horizon, the U’s will need all the help they can get as they look to confirm their highest league finish since 1993/94, when they ended the campaign in 10th place in the third tier.

Sheffield Wednesday, however, have bigger things on their mind. The Owls are undoubtedly one of the biggest clubs to grace League One in recent years, with many tipping them for automatic promotion before the start of the season. While that looks to be out of reach now, Moore’s men have performed like a ‘top two’ side in recent weeks and will look to carry that momentum into the rest of the campaign.

Their plethora of talent dwarfs that of Cambridge, with the likes of Barry Bannan, Massimo Luongo, Saido Berahino and Lee Gregory under contract at the club. The fixture, on paper, is a total mismatch, but the U’s often thrive in those situations. Bonner’s side claimed an impressive point from their 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at The Abbey in October, and they’ll be hopeful of doing the same at Hillsborough on Saturday afternoon.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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