Cambridge United chalked another point towards their Sky Bet League One tally with a 1-1 draw against Port Vale at the Abbey Stadium...
An early strike from Ben Garrity handed the visitors to impetus to control the game up until the hour mark, where some inspired substitutions from the U’s helped claw the leveller after Fejiri Okenabirhie headed home for the third successive league match.
The number nine was presented with an opportunity to win it from the spot in the dying embers, but Connor Ripley was on hand to claim and force a share of the spoils.
The task for the hosts heading into the encounter was to add even more consistency to their results by terminating a two-match losing streak and continuing their impressive form on home soil. In their way, a similarly resurgent Valiants side, who too had kept four clean sheets altogether and were languishing in 3rd after winning four on the trot prior to midweek.
Following the slender defeat at Wigan Athletic a week earlier, Mark Bonner named one change to his XI as Jack Lankester made way for Elias Kachunga. Elsewhere, Adam May returned to the matchday squad for the first time in the league since October – replacing full-back Harrison Dunk.
Starting with a high tempo, the visitors forced the first chance after just two minutes when James Plant collected the ball down the left and cut back to a looming Ethan Chislett inside the penalty area – the number 10 had acres of space but lashed his attempt wide of Will Mannion’s left post.
United looked their most industrious on the flanks and carved out an instant shot through Sullay Kaikai, who cut inside and unleashed a curler which was blocked well. On the 12th minute, James Brophy’s delivery was headed into the danger zone by Gassan Ahadme, prompting Vale to clear their lines.
The visitors drew first blood on 19 when livewire Ethan Chislett cut the U’s defence open with an inch-perfect pass to Garrity on the left, who slotted into the bottom corner from an angle.
Ten minutes later, an excellent move almost paid its dividends after Danny Andrew and Kachunga played a one-two down the left, resulting in the former whipping in a teasing cross to Kaikai – the winger powered a header on target but Ripley showcased superb reflexes to paw it away for a corner.
Down the other end, United received a lucky escape on the 34th minute after James Wilson chased down a hesitant Mannion with his foot, forcing the ball to loop a matter of inches over the crossbar.
Vale’s fluidity continued for the remainder of the first half, with Andy Crosby’s men comfortable in possession and quicker out of it where it mattered. Yet to ignite that spark, the U’s needed ideas.
Heading into the hour mark, Bonner rolled the dice by naming a triple substitution. Tinkering with his attacking setup, Lankester, Okenabirhie and John-Kymani Gordon were all introduced to the fold.
Reinvigorated, they almost snatched an equaliser on 62 after Gordon’s strike deflected to Andrew on the edge of the penalty area who rifled against the post.
Capitalising when it mattered, the U’s were level three minutes later when the lively Gordon showed excellent feet to fly into the final third and astutely pick out Okenabirhie, who fired home a close-range header past a helpless Ripley.
The home faithful had their hearts in their mouths for a brief moment on the 70th minute when Liam Bennett’s back pass was intercepted by Gavin Massey, who marauded into the area and pulled the trigger which was crucially denied by the body of Mannion, before being put directed over the crossbar by Chislett.
There was drama near the death when the returning May picked out Lankester in the box – the attacker turned his man but was brought down in the process for a penalty. Okenabirhie stepped up from 12 yards, lashed towards the corner but was denied by penalty specialist Ripley.
Despite a lengthy additional time of seven minutes, an end-to-end conclusion couldn’t result in a winner, with the shares spoiled and the unbeaten run on home soil stretched to three games.
Attention now turns to next Saturday (30th September) when the U’s make the trip to the Pride Park Stadium to take on promotion hopefuls Derby County – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mannion, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Morrison, Andrew, Digby, Thomas (May, 83’), Brophy, Kachunga (Lankester, 61’), Kaikai (Gordon, 61’), Ahadme (Okenabirhie, 61’)
Subs Not Used: Holden, Ibsen Rossi, Simper
Goalscorers: Okenabirhie (65’)
Port Vale: Ripley, Balmer (Cass, 45’), Smith, Iacovitti, Clark (Sang, 45’), Arblaster, Ojo, Plant (Grant, 85’), Garrity, Chislett (Devine, 73’), Wilson (Massey, 55’)
Subs Not Used: Leutweiler, Lowe
Goalscorers: Garrity (19’)
Bookings: Balmer, Wilson, Iacovitti, Grant
Referee: Christopher Pollard
Attendance: 6905 (733 away fans)
Man of the Match: Okenabirhie