If the U’s triumph over Luton today, they will have equalled their best FA Cup run since 1991Cambridge United

After Cambridge United’s historic giant-killing of Newcastle United last month, the U’s face Championship-side Luton Town in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup later today (03/02).

There has been significantly increased media interest in Cambridge United since their shock victory over England’s richest club, and no one feels it more than manager Mark Bonner. “And people say the magic of the FA Cup doesn’t exist,” Bonner jokes, referring to the unusually high number of journalists on Zoom for Thursday’s (04/02) pre-match press conference. Yet the pressure doesn’t seem to get to the boss. He appears at ease throughout, joking and smiling despite internet connection issues that force him to conduct half the press conference on his phone. These are the moments that make the season of a small club like Cambridge, so why not relish them?

“We’ll have to be at the top of our game to be able to compete”

More than anything, Bonner is looking forward to the occasion: a sold-out Abbey Stadium under floodlights on Saturday evening. “We know the atmosphere will be great and there’ll be people there who don’t normally come,” Bonner highlights, “we want to show them something that makes them want to come back.” He can rest assured that his side did that for the 5,000 who travelled to St James’ Park in the last round, but to do it again, at home, would have an added sweetness.

“They’re a hard-working team and they won’t drop their standards,” Bonner warns of Luton, never getting ahead of himself. Luton are currently ninth in the Championship, vying for the play-off places. “Sides higher up in the leagues sometimes don’t understand the level, but [Luton] certainly do.” Bonner is referring to the often-mentioned criticism of Premier League clubs when they face lower league opposition in cup competitions – they don’t understand the style of play in League One, League Two, and below.

Newcastle were exposed by their inability to cope with Cambridge’s target man Joe Ironside in the last round, for example, but Bonner doesn’t expect the same mistakes to be made by Nathan Jones’ Luton. “We’ll have to be ready for the physicality,” Bonner emphasises, praising Jones for what he has done at the club, most recently losing just one match out of the last nine. “Lots of them [in the squad] have played through the leagues,” Bonner comments, showing his knowledge of a Luton side who were playing in the non-league only 12 years ago, and League Two as recently as 2018, “that allows them to have proper aggression.”

“Cambridge’s 2021-22 FA Cup story is not ready to come to an end just yet. The FA Cup is made for nights like these”

More assurance that Luton won’t make the same mistakes as Cambridge’s previous, more prestigious opponents, comes from the injury to United’s goal scoring hero Ironside, and the possibility of being without defender Jack Iredale as well. These are two big losses, but Bonner seems to take it on the chin rather than making excuses. However, he is fully aware that Cambridge are going into this game as underdogs again: “We’ll have to be at the top of our game to be able to compete.”

Perhaps history can provide some inspiration for the U’s. Cambridge’s only victory against Luton Town in the last ten attempts, the majority of which were in League Two when both sides spent several years in the division, was in the FA Cup back in 2014. That game was also at home, a 2-1 victory which resulted in a famous couple of matches against Manchester United in the next round. Mark Bonner had forgotten this bit of the recent past, but seemed amused rather than inspired by history’s tendency to repeat itself.


Mountain View

Cambridge and the FA Cup: an age-old romance

Another win in the FA Cup would not only get Cambridge one game away from equalling their best ever FA Cup run (quarter-finals in 1990 and 1991), it would also create even more valuable buzz around the club. As the high journalist turnout shows, even this match, against Championship opposition, does its bit for publicity. “On the television, the red button, people can have a look at where we’re at as a club,” Bonner points out, with the match scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC Red Button and online, “the way we develop as a club is by increasing our fanbase.” FA Cup weekends are the best way to do it.

Cambridge United, sitting 27 league places below Luton, will need another shock to progress to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup this year, where only sixteen clubs are left from the entire country. Luton will be aware of the threat Cambridge pose following the national story of the last round, and will have the experience and grit to pose a serious challenge. Yet Cambridge are at home, with the roar of the crowd on their side. Cambridge’s 2021-22 FA Cup story is not ready to come to an end just yet. The FA Cup is made for nights like these.