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U's youngsters shine in Papa John's Trophy victory

31 August 2021

Cambridge United kicked off their Papa John’s Trophy campaign with a comprehensive 4-1 win over ten-man Oxford United at the Abbey Stadium...

It was a night to remember for the U's as six former and current Cambridge United academy players were named in the matchday squad. A quickfire Sam Smith brace, either side of a Luke McNally red card, put the U’s in the driving seat on the cusp of half-time. A neat Dan Agyei strike midway through the second half gave the visitors hope, before Harvey Knibbs and Kai Yearn finishes ensured the three points and wrapped up a convincing evening.

Deeming it the perfect opportunity to inject fresh energy and provide valuable minutes for those who have found opportunities limited of late, Mark Bonner ringed 10 changes to the side that clinched victory over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, with only Paul Digby keeping his place. Jack Lankester started his first match for the Club, with Kai McKenzie-Lyle, Liam Bennett and Mamadou Jobe making their competitive debuts.

The sides couldn’t be separated when they clashed earlier in the month during the season opener. A  similar meeting beckoned between players eager to stake their claim. Familiar foes in this competition, the U’s fell to Oxford in the Third Round last season, with Karl Robinson’s men falling at the Semi-Final stage.

In a cautious opening to the encounter, both sides enjoyed some strong spells in possession without generating any real clear-cut chances. The first major opportunity of the game arrived on the 16th minute when a looping Adam May header from a corner struck the crossbar, cuing a goalmouth scramble which forced two applaudable blocks before the visitors cleared their lines.

Oxford fought back with a couple of strikes themselves, forcing diving saves from McKenzie-Lyle to first deny Tyler Goodrham and then Joel Cooper who both were allowed space to roam forwards and cannon similar attempts from 25 yards as the game approached its half an hour mark.

A pinpoint pass from May carved open the Oxford defence on 37, finding an open Smith who scampered forwards in a one-on-one position, pulling the trigger early and dragging wide of Simon Eastwood’s right post.

The hosts capitalised on a promising conclusion to the first half by breaking the deadlock on the 45th minute. A teasing corner from Ben Worman was connected with precision by the head of Smith, who made no mistake and fired past Eastwood.

With their tails up, the U’s countered in their numbers once more and would then boast an extra man advantage when last man Knibbs was brought down by Luke McNally on the edge of the area, with the defender receiving his marching orders.

United were now running rampant and went into the interval two goals to the good after a real case of déjà vu deep into added time. Another sumptuous Worman delivery was met by May who dragged the ball towards Smith who secured his second with a delicate flick, wrapping up a hectic end to the first period with the hosts in control and cruising.

Assuring and understandably the more assertive of the sides, the boys in amber went close to their third on the 57th minute. A neat passing move concluded in a Harrison Dunk lay-off to an unmarked Lankester in the area whose attempt was blocked by a host of bodies.

Oxford were excruciatingly close to pulling a goal back on the 67th minute. After breaking into the final third, Michael Elechi hit a venomous shot, clattering the nearest post before darting away from danger.

The visitors halved the deficit, and put further pressure on the hosts, three minutes later when Agyei picked the ball out from 25 yards and curled a delightful attempt into the top corner which left McKenzie-Lyle stranded.

A Liam Bennett piledriver from just shy of 30 yards on the 79th minute forced Eastwood into a majestic save, flinging himself to his left to palm the piledriver over. The attempt deservedly earnt something, with the resulting corner missing a sea of heads and on a plate for Knibbs who tapped home from a matter of yards to restore the two-goal cushion.

The home faithful were treated to a plethora of chances as the game reached its dying embers, with a memorable final blow occurring in stoppage time as United added a fourth. Yearn, a 16-year-old England youth international, capped off a scintillating professional debut with a composed finish from a precise Bennett pass.

It wrapped up a thoroughly successful night for Bonner’s men, with encouraging displays all over the pitch from both young talents and fringe performers, who will all breed confidence from a highly satisfactory performance.

After Saturday’s proposed trip to Doncaster Rovers was called off owing to international call-ups, the U’s now have the opportunity to recuperate ahead of their next encounter where they host Lincoln City on Saturday 11th September.

Cambridge United: McKenzie-Lyle, Bennett, Jobe, Digby, Dunk, Lankester (Yearn, 68), Weir, May, Worman, Knibbs, Smith (Brophy, 76)

Bookings: May

Oxford United: Eastwood, Chambers-Parillon (Nosakhare, 45), Mousinho, McNally, Elechi, Johnson, Kane (Anifowose, 85), Cooper, Goodrham, Holland (O’Donkor, 60), Agyei

Bookings: Cooper, McNally (Red), Johnson

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