Cambridge United made it six home games unbeaten as they came from behind to beat a strong Salford City 2-1 in a testing Sky Bet League Two encounter.
A well-taken effort from Ian Henderson had given the Ammies the lead, however a sweet finish from Jack Iredale in the dying embers of the first half levelled the proceedings. United came out of the blocks firing in the second period, Joe Ironside converting from the penalty spot to secure an eye-catching win that cemented the U’s position of second in the table.
Mark Bonner made two changes to the side that fell to a 2-1 defeat to Crawley Town on Halloween. Wes Hoolahan and Harry Darling returned to the fold, replacing Leon Davies and Paul Mullin who both featured on the bench. Captain Greg Taylor was deployed in the heart of a midfield five, supporting a lone Ironside.
The Ammies started on the front foot. James Wilson was provided with two good opportunities in the opening minutes, his second crashing into the side netting from an acute angle.
However, the hosts’ intensity increased in the first quarter of an hour. Despite not executing a clear attempt at goal, some slick passing moves and strong pressing was on show, especially down the left flank, as they attempted to open up Salford’s backline.
The highly experienced Ian Henderson marauded forward on 23 for the visitors, teeing up an open Ash Hunter whose drilled attempt from 12 yards was fired just wide of Dimitar Mitov’s right post.
Salford’s building pressure paid off on the half hour mark when a floating cross from Hunter was flicked onto a plate for an unmarked Henderson at the back post, who expertly dispatched the chance to give Paul Scholes’ side the advantage.
It could very well have been 2-0 minutes later, as Brandon Thomas-Asante twisted and turned inside the box before unleashing a fierce shot which nestled past the post.
Mitov was forced into two superb saves on the 39th minute, which proved pivotal in the encounter, denying Wilson with his feet before a strong palm prevented an onrushing Thomas-Asante from increasing the advantage.
United conjured up the leveller on the 43rd minute, Hoolahan found Iredale in acres of space on the overlap an the left sided player fired it low underneath Vaclav Hladky for his first goal in amber and black colours.
It was a crucial time for the hosts to score, going into the break with the momentum in their favour despite succumbing to severe pressure against them for the majority of the game.
Just moments into the second period, the U’s were awarded a penalty. Iredale proved instrumental once more as he skipped past several Salford defenders before being hauled down inside the box. Ironside made no mistake from the spot, coolly lashing home his sixth of the season.
It proved to be the only golden opportunity since the break as United continued to keep their lead intact, valiantly clearing their lines when called upon.
Eager to add an extra attacking prowess to the encounter, Bonner brought on League Two’s top goalscorer in Mullin on the 69th minute with chances at a real minimum for either side. He provided United with just that. A lofted ball from Hannant was excellently held up by Mullin, who muscled his way into space but could not unleash enough power on a shot from inside the area.
Mitov could only paw away a venomous attempt on 74, it fell to an open Tom Clarke who couldn’t generate the accuracy as his header looped straight into the hands of goalkeeper.
Harvey Knibbs entered the field of play on the 77th minute with the clear instruction of seeing the game out as the U’s tinkered with their formation slightly. Wilson was presented with a shot on target on the 88th minute, but the tame attempt gave Mitov little difficulties between the sticks.
Deep into injury time, Harvey Knibbs was unlucky not to have killed the game off when he scampered into the box and side-footed an attempt inches wide.
Despite the Ammies continuing to knock on the door in the dying embers, they were unable to break down what was a stubborn and resolute U’s defence, who as a man dug in to ground out yet convincing result.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Cundy, Darling, Dunk, Hannant, Hoolahan, Taylor, Boateng, Iredale (Mullin, 69 mins), Ironside (Knibbs, 77 mins)
Salford City: Hladky, Clarke, Eastham, Turnbull, Touray, Thomas-Asante (Boyd, 69 mins’), Threlkeld (Burgess, 83 mins), Lowe, Hunter, Wilson, Henderson (Andrade, 77 mins)