Cambridge United still have everything to fight for at Mansfield Town

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Cambridge United manager Colin Calderwood shows despair during the Sky Bet League Two match between Cambridge United and Stevenage at Abbey Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Cambridge United manager Colin Calderwood shows despair during the Sky Bet League Two match between Cambridge United and Stevenage at Abbey Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)

Cambridge United arrive at the One Call Stadium on Saturday still fighting to secure their Football League status after a miserable season so far.

But Tuesday’s splendid 3-0 win at Bury will have lifted their spirits and hopes.

The aspirations going into the campaign were pretty high.

Then head coach Joe Dunne had achieved top seven form during his interim spell from February to May, and celebrated his first game in the job full time with a 5-0 win over Port Vale in the last game of the season.

But they lost 3-0 to the same opponents in the first game of this season, and things just got worse from there, peaking with a 4-3 loss to Guiseley in the FA Cup.

Few envisaged a relegation battle, but with a lack of investment over the summer, alongside losing key players - Uche Ikpeazu, Leon Legge, Piero Mingoia, namely - it’s been a slog.

Things improved under ex-Stags star Colin Calderwood, but have dipped again lately with only one win in eight.

Most fans would have settled for top half, but now it’s all about survival, which is by no means certain with some difficult fixtures coming up, especially away from home.

A long reflection is likely to be needed in the summer, regardless of what league United end up in.

Board members have already admitted that, in hindsight, going into a season with three strikers, two of whom were incredibly injury-prone while the other had failed to register a league goal in his first season, was a mistake.

Indeed, two of them, Ade Azeez and Barry Corr, are no longer at the club, while the other is out of contract.

Rebuilding is needed in the summer, but the board announced that the fans should expect a ‘significant’ shortfall in the books for 2017/18, akin to 2016/17’s losses of around £700,000.

The club are trying to be more transparent, to their credit, while the community side of things is fantastic.

On the pitch though, things have been a bit bleak.

Calderwood seems the right man, and a calm head, to guide them through this time and rebuild.

He’s also very realistic on how long the job could take, which fans seem receptive to.

Calderwood has done well since he arrived. In very basic terms, United were one point above the bottom two when he arrived and were six points clear before last night’s game at Bury.

They had a chance to make that 10 against Cheltenham, but two damaging losses to both the Robins and Yeovil have dragged them back into trouble.

Their away form, for the most part, remains horrendous, while they are still struggling to score goals.

It has been the case of one step forward, two steps back, but how much of that is down to Calderwood is questionable.

Fans are understanding of the situation he is in, though, and expect him to be backed in the summer.

The individual mistakes that blighted United’s early season form seem to have passed, and, since their 6-0 thumping by MK Dons, they have looked far more solid.

Mercurial midfielder Jevani Brown has both scored seven and assisted seven to sit top scorer this season.

His preferred - and probably most effective position - is sitting behind the striker, but he has often been put out on the left under Calderwood.

He has the ability to pick out a pass and has already built of a good relationship with Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.

Left-back/winger Hayden Coulson, who arrived in January on loan from Middlesbrough, is starting to find his feet at United.

His pace is unbelievable, and his unpredictability and fearlessness on the ball has caused a few defences problems.

That same unpredictability can sometimes stretch to those around him in amber not exactly knowing what’s coming either though.

Captain Gary Deegan has had a few problems with his back, so could be doubtful for Saturday, while Paul Lewis, who replaced him against Colchester, only last five minutes and isn’t expected to be back.

Rushian Hepburn-Murphy was rested on Tuesday to allow him to play on Saturday.

Liam O’Neil will definitely miss out, and is fighting against the clock to return before the end of the season.