Cambridge United were beaten by Sutton United on penalties in Round One of the Carabao Cup…
After a back-and-forth contest which ended 2-2 after 101 minutes, it was the hosts who prevailed on penalties to make it into Round Two.
Mark Bonner rang the changes as eight players from Saturday’s league opener against Oxford made way for their teammates. Zeno Ibsen Rossi was named in the team to make his first start since February, after recovering from a long-term injury, whilst Jordan Cousins and Elias Kachunga came in for their full debuts.
It was a frantic and end-to-end start to proceedings, with a minute of madness taking place around the nine minute mark, as Mannion produced a brilliant point-blank save to keep out the home side, before Dunk cleared the follow-up effort off the line.
Seconds later, United broke up the other end and Sutton goalkeeper, Steve Arnold, produced a terrific stop to deny Kachunga in a one-on-one situation.
The early moments of the game indicated that goals would be on the menu and in the 10th minute, a mix-up at the back for the home side allowed Okenabirhie to sneak in and stroll towards goal before finding the open net.
Sutton hit back in the 37th minute as their direct method of attack paid dividends. A Rob Milsom throw-in fell to striker Harry Smith, who made no mistake from close range, smashing the ball into the roof of the net.
Fresh off their 5-1 victory over Notts County at the weekend, the hosts were clearly full of confidence and not willing to roll over for the U’s. Just after six minutes of added time were announced, Sutton had a further two good sights of goal as they continued to bombard the United box, including a second goal-line clearance of the game from Harrison Dunk.
With the momentum clearly with the home side, the half-time whistle came as a welcome reprieve for the U’s to regroup at the break.
The hosts almost took the lead just two minutes into the half, as second half substitute Ben Goodliffe ghosted into the box before heading onto the roof of the net. It was another warning sign for the U’s who were living dangerously with Sutton very much in the ascendancy.
Looking to reassert themselves on the contest, a brilliant through ball from Cousins on 53 minutes found Okenabirhie lurking on the shoulder of the last man, and despite a good first touch which opened up the opportunity to shoot, his effort flew wide of the near-post.
Mannion, who was having a fine back back between the sticks, came up clutch with a superb double save just before the hour mark, as he got down low to push away Patrick’s darting strike from the edge of the box, before getting up to deny Smith’s headed follow-up effort.
Those saves proved to be even more important just 10 minutes later, when Okenabirhie was taken down inside the box by Sutton goalkeeper, Jack Rose, which resulted in a successfully converted United penalty by the U’s number 9.
Okenabirhie came whiskers away from scoring his hat-trick soon after, as he curled narrowly wide following industrious work from Thomas to win the ball and then set-up his teammate for the chance. It would prove to be his last opportunity to claim the match-ball, as he was one of five second half substitutes made, with he, Thomas, Lankester, Digby and Andrew all coming on for Ahadme, Brophy, Kachunga, Cousins and Ibsen Rossi.
As the game wore on, Mark Bonner’s men continued to get stronger and stronger and by the final fifteen minutes, it looked like a third goal was likely.
Sutton has another surprise up their sleeve though, and with 10 minutes to play, Beautyman levelled up from the spot after the referee adjudged him to have been unfairly challenged in the box.
With 11 minutes time added on, the game continued to be played at a terrific pace, as both sides went for the winner. Janneh had United’s best sights of goal, but his header and then speculative strike from 20 yards out both missed the target.
On penalties, the U’s lost 6-5 with Harrison Dunk being the unfortunate player to miss the final spot-kick, but there is no time for United to lick their wounds, as a trip to Fleetwood awaits on Saturday.