Cambridge United recorded a second successive victory in Sky Bet League One after grinding out a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at the Abbey Stadium...
Shilow Tracey’s early opener proved enough to separate the sides on a battling afternoon where the U’s to a man passed a test of sheer grit and determination.
Mark Bonner made just the solitary change from the team that gained their first three points of the campaign last Saturday - with Shilow Tracey replacing Sam Smith as his side tinkered with formation to match their opponents.
An enticing encounter awaited at an atmospheric Abbey between the newly-promoted sides. United had enjoyed a valiant opening four games and would only breed confidence from their previous league outing. The Trotters, on eight points and one of four remaining unbeaten sides, had been assuring and possessed individual threats to be wary of.
In a fast-paced start, the hosts delivered the first opportunity after just one minute of play. Tracey latched onto a pass in the far corner and found George Williams whose goal-bound delivery was whiskers away from catching Joel Dixon out from 30 yards, who scrambled to tip it wide.
After a short spell of clearing their lines, the U’s ventured on a blistering counter attack and thought they took the lead on 14 when James Brophy’s pinpoint cross was expertly drilled home by Joe Ironside before the striker was then penalised for an offside decision.
United made no mistake during their next foray into the final third, deservedly breaking deadlock on the 15th minute to cap off an awe-inspiring period of liquid football. A neat low cross from Williams was on a plate for an unmarked Tracey inside the box, who showed real composure to nestle into the bottom corner to spark jubilation.
Bonner’s men continued to cause havoc with some astute long balls and crosses into the danger zones after the opener, but proceedings soon changed to a real physical affair with the tackles and cards flying out. The Trotters enjoyed the possession and started to threaten, but couldn’t generate that killer pass to break down a determined backline full of resolve as the first half reached its conclusion.
Spirit and desire would be essential for the U’s during the second half. That was evident moments in when a smart delivery on the overlap from Declan John picked out Josh Sheehan whose effort came back off Dimitar Mitov’s right post.
The visitors had their tails up and were peppering with United’s penalty box at an extortionate rate, attacking wave after wave. An applaudable save from Mitov prevented a likely equaliser on the 57th minute when Oladapo Afolayan was handed too much space down the left. The attacker scampered into the area, opened up his body and fired from 12 yards but was denied by the Bulgarian.
Despite the barrage of pressure, the hosts remained firm and weathered the storm. They had to bide their time to roam forwards, but almost capitalised when that opportunity arose on the hour mark. A dazzling dribble and crisp attempt from the edge of the area from Wes Hoolahan was anticipated well by Dixon.
The cagey showcase continued as it reached its latter stages. United were doing their job but were eager to add a different dimension to their attacking ranks, hence the substitutions of Sam Smith and Harvey Knibbs, whose fresh legs instantly benefitted their disposal. Pressure allowed Liam O’Neil to generate a chance on 78, the midfielder lashing an attempt on target which was gathered by Dixon.
Ian Evatt’s men continued to throw the kitchen sink at the U’s during injury time, with an Alex Baptiste half-volley being blocked as the rearguard cleared their lines impeccably just like they had done all afternoon. Ultimately, the clean sheet and the three points was soon confirmed and coconuts was ringing in the ears of the United faithful once more.
The U’s are back on home soil on Tuesday night as they kick off their their Papa John’s Trophy campaign with a visit from Oxford United.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Jones, Masterson, Iredale, Digby, O’Neil, Tracey (Knibbs, 77), Hoolahan, Brophy (Dunk, 90), Ironside (Smith, 69)
Bookings: Iredale, Digby, Hoolahan, O’Neil
Bolton Wanderers: Dixon, Jones (Kachunga, 64), Santos, Johnston (Baptiste, 74), John, Williams (Delfouneso, 80), Sheehan, Isgrove, Sarcevic, Afolayan, Doyle
Bookings: Williams, Sarcevic, Santos
Attendance: 6124 (1499 away)