Cambridge United fell to a frustrating 1-2 defeat to Sunderland in a Sky Bet League One encounter played in torrential conditions at a sold-out Abbey Stadium...
The Black Cats took the lead through Alex Pritchard’s wind-assisted corner - before Sam Smith struck an instant response with a sweet strike. A first-half flurry of goals concluded with a sublime Nathan Broadhead finish, which ultimately proved enough to separate the sides despite a barrage of United pressure.
Mark Bonner ringed the solitary change from the team that shared a point in a topsy-turvy encounter against Wigan Athletic in midweek. A recuperated Wes Hoolahan returned to the fold - replacing Jensen Weir as the U’s retained their 4/2/3/1 shape.
Packed to the rafters, there was a real vibrant atmosphere around CB5 pre-match ahead of a first league encounter between the sides since 1993. United approached the clash in high hopes after consistent form of two wins, two draws and two losses. One of several congested in mid-table, they also obtained a healthy cushion from the relegation zone. The visitors arrived on the back of one win in five, but a rampant start to the campaign, which has also seen them reach the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, meant they made up the play-off pack.
The U’s kicked things off in the ascendency, presenting themselves with an early attempt at a wind-swept Abbey. Smith picked up the ball from the right-hand side and embarked on a dazzling 2nd minute run, jinking past the visitors’ backline and waltzing into the box being pulling the trigger from 15 yards which was well-blocked.
The Black Cats probed for an early opener, generating some dangerous opportunities and finding their feet well. They capitalised on tricky conditions after 15 minutes when Pritchard’s direct corner was heavily wind-assisted towards goal, bouncing off the post and nestling beyond scrambling United colours.
The hosts’ response was valiant, conjuring up an equaliser on the 26th minute thanks to an attack that oozed class. Wes Hoolahan - orchestrating well from the middle of the park - crafted an excellent passing movement with Joe Ironside, before the ball fell to Smith in the penalty area who took a light touch and drilled home emphatically to bring the teams level.
Weathering a slight storm on the pitch as well as off it, United were forced to dig in deep as they were continuously tested defensively. Paul Digby applaudingly headed off the line to conclude a quick succession of menacing corners – which understandably continued to prove quite kryptonite.
They were left helpless, however, on the 35th minute when Broadhead picked his spot and cannoned a barnstorming attempt from 25 yards to ensure a swift return to a one-goal advantage for Lee Johnson’s men.
It proved the last action of an intriguing first half with the conditions ultimately halting both sides from playing attractive football, despite three sublime finishes. Nonetheless, with the wind in their favour after the interval, the U’s remained optimistic that they could be handed golden opportunities.
That was deemed to be the case as Bonner’s men forced a great diving save from Ron-Thorben Hoffman on 53. An exquisite Hoolahan cross was met by Ironside, who executed a diving header which was kept out by the Bayern Munich loanee.
A real carbon-copy, it was the U’s turn to threaten through corners down the left. First, Ross Stewart cleared off the line before Adam May then floated a corner goal-bound which Hoffman rised highest to poke away.
Passing its hour mark, the torrential state of affairs forced this to be a game for the ages with United dominantly piling on the pressure and looking the likeliest to bulge the onion bag next. To their credit, the Black Cats were assuringly clearing their lines as the plethora of balls was pumped into the six-yard box.
After Smith dispossessed in a dangerous area on the 75th minute, he teed up May who, after hearing cries of “shoot” from the crowd, took a light touch and fired an attempt that lashed inches wide of Hoffman’s right post.
Instantly, the visitors marauded up the other end through Broadhead who, from a tricky angle down the left, slotted agonisingly wide of the post in what probably would have killed the game.
Determined to grab a share of the spoils, the hosts injected fresh legs in Harvey Knibbs and Shilow Tracey, who made a first appearance since early-November.
A pinpoint cross down the left from Harrison Dunk on the 88th minute frustratingly evaded Ironside and into the gloves of Hoffman – the slightest of touches surely would have resulted in the equaliser. The kitchen sink was thrown, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as the boys in amber suffered defeat.
Attention turns to the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night (30th November) as Cambridge United look to progress from the Round of 32 as they take on League Two outfit Walsall here at the Abbey Stadium.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Masterson, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, May (Tracey, 76), Smith, Hoolahan, Brophy (Knibbs, 76), Ironside
Subs Not Used: McKenzie-Lyle, Okedina, Weir, Lankester, Worman
Goalscorers: Smith (26)
Sunderland: Hoffman, Winchester, Flanagan, Wright, Doyle, Dajaku, Gooch, Neil, Pritchard (Harris, 78), Stewart, Broadhead
Subs Not Used: Patterson, Alves, Embleton, O’Brien, Dunne
Goalscorers: Pritchard (15), Broadhead (35)
Attendance: 7974 (2651 away fans)
Man of the Match: Hoolahan