Cambridge United progressed into the Second Round of the Emirates FA Cup after cruising to a 3-1 victory over Northampton Town at the Abbey Stadium...
Strikes from Harvey Knibbs and Sam Smith put the U’s into the ascendency after an assuring first half. They came out of the blocks firing after the break, Ben Worman’s sizzling strike killing the game off to ensure Danny Rose’s header was just a consolation as they held on to set up a home tie against Exeter City.
Mark Bonner made four changes to the side that succumbed to a challenging 4-1 defeat at MK Dons three days earlier. Dunk, May, Worman and Knibbs all returned to the starting line-up as the U’s opted for a pacy attacking approach.
If the fixture at Sixfields was anything to go by – a match where United pegged the Cobblers back twice in a tight affair - this would be a battle between two sides eager to bounce back from their respective weekend losses after going their previous four unbeaten. The League Two outfit had proved formidable defensively in their campaign to date, tallying the second most clean sheets (9) across the top four tiers. Nonetheless, the hosts had scored in all but one of their 17 league matches, setting up another stern test with a first victory in the competition since 2017 the objective.
The encounter started in a controlled manner, the U’s finding their feet with some delicate passing moves around the back. The lively Kion Etete generated the first half opportunity of the evening, testing his luck in the opening minutes with a drilled attempt from 20 yards that lashed wide of Dimitar Mitov’s right post.
The aforementioned Cobblers attacker caused further havoc on the 11th minute and for a split second thought he’d grabbed an unorthodox opener. Etete lashed at a Mitov goal kick and the ball trickled elegantly into the back of the net before rightfully being ruled out by referee Darren Drysdale.
It took the hosts just the solitary minute to stamp their authority as they broke the deadlock a minute later in their next foray forward. An exquisite deep cross down the left from an overlapping Dunk was meat and drink for Joe Ironside, who expertly cushioned a header onto a plate for Knibbs who stabbed home from the six-yard box to hand United the advantage.
In search of a second, George Williams drove into space on 26 and unleashed a venomous low attempt from the right which lashed at the side netting and evading a diving Liam Roberts.
Chances went from few and far between to aplenty – eventually proving decisive as the U’s went two goals to the good at a crucial time. A weak clearance on the 38th minute fell to May on the edge of the area whose barnstorming attempt was denied by the excellent reflexes of Liam Roberts who pawed over the crossbar. The resulting corner was well-worked; a teasing Jack Iredale delivery was met by Smith whose header was denied by more Roberts heroics, but it fell straight back to United’s number 10 who coolly slotted home.
As the first half reached its conclusion, the visitors looked to generate an instant response. Fraser Horsfall tested the gloves of Mitov with a powering header before an unmarked Dylan Connolly pounced wide with the last kick in added time as the U’s went into the break with a healthy lead.
With United cruising, the tie looked all but over three minutes into the second period when they unleashed the killer third goal – this was no doubt the pick of the bunch. Phenomenal hold-up play from Ironside helped carve the Cobblers before teeing up Worman who cannoned an unstoppable 20-yarder against the post and into the net to cue jubilation in front of the Newmarket Road End.
Thriving, Bonner’s men were excruciatingly close to celebrating their fourth on 53. A lung-busting track back and interception from Smith engineered a counter-attack that found its way to fellow goalscorer Knibbs who scampered into the box and hit a ferocious attempt that required an excellent parry onto the bar from Roberts.
After a short spell of slowing down the tempo and managing the game professionally, the U’s were cut back by a consolation on the 74th minute. A pinpoint cross from substitute Aaron McGowan was connected well by Rose who looped his header home.
Despite that, the boys in black and amber retained their strong application and responded well. Whilst remaining cautious, they looked the likeliest to garner the next goal. That almost came on the 79th minute, but an excellent block from Ali Kioki prevented Knibbs from pulling the trigger from 8 yards.
It proved the last action of the match as the U’s remained resolute to comfortably secure their passage into the next round.
Attention swiftly returns to League One action on Saturday afternoon (20th November) as the U’s travel to the New York Stadium to take on high-flying Rotherham United.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, May, Knibbs (Lankester, 87), Worman (Weir, 72), Smith (Brophy, 72), Ironside
Subs Not Used: McKenzie-Lyle, Davies, Masterson, Bennett
Goalscorers: Knibbs, Smith, Worman
Northampton Town: Roberts, Harriman (McGowan, 41), Horsfall, Guthrie, Koiki, Hoskins (Kabamba, 66), McWilliams, Connolly (Pinnock, 66), Lewis, Rose, Etete
Subs Not Used: Maxted, Pollock, Flores, Ashley-Seal, Dyche
Attendance: 3068 (691 away fans)
Man Of The Match: Worman