Cambridge United put in a battling shift to pick up a point in a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at an atmospheric Abbey Stadium.
George Williams capitalised on a blistering opening for the U’s by neatly heading home. However, in what was a case of a game of two halves, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru struck for the Owls ten minutes from time to ensure the sides couldn’t be separated despite their endeavour.
Mark Bonner made two changes to the side that fought back to share the spoils with Ipswich Town three days earlier. Jensen Weir was drafted in for his second league start of the campaign whereas Sam Smith added to the attacking ranks as they meddled with formation.
Going into the side’s first league encounter since 1984, the U’s had enjoyed a steady campaign to date and boasted a respectable return of just two losses in their last nine thanks to consecutive late showings. The visitors had proven stern at the back but were keen to add more goals to their name after registering just 13. Nonetheless, after a run of one defeat in six and on the cusp of the play-offs, a testing spectacle was in store at a vibrant Abbey.
Over recent weeks, the U’s had found it a challenge to begin clashes on the front foot, but that proved contrasting in this instance as they stamped early authority over the Owls. The first opportunity of the evening fell to the way of Smith on the 7th minute - who after being released by Weir scampered into the far right of the box but was denied by Chey Dunkley who impeccably got his body on the line.
Continuing to apply the afterburners, United went close on separate occasions minutes later when Joe Ironside’s powering header looped just over the crossbar before Williams attempted the spectacular from 25 yards which drilled inches wide of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s right post in a spell of final third attacking frenzy.
Williams’ barnstorming start was rewarded on the 19th minute when he handed the hosts a thoroughly deserved lead in front of the Newmarket Road End. The full-back met Jack Iredale’s venomous low corner at the front post and flicked it beyond a sea of defenders to cue pandemonium.
The intensity and desire remained a constant in a scintillating half an hour for United who were already itching for a second. The excellent deliveries down either flank were proving menacing, forcing the visitors to stay alert and clear their lines numerously.
The U’s were dealt a mighty scare on the 34th minute after Lewis Wing was played clean through on goal and almost seemed to hesitate in the one-on-one position before being denied by a commanding low collection from Dimitar Mitov.
The Owls started to knock on the door and tested United’s backline again three minutes later. Dele-Bashiru twisted and turned inside the box, teeing himself up and unleashing a powerful attempt that clattered the post and away from danger.
Darren Moore’s men gradually started to ramp up the pressure – a teasing corner fell perfectly to Dominic Iorfa moments before added time but the defender got awkward contact on it thanks to defensive duty from Ironside. Ultimately, it was a commanding first half for the hosts whose shape and application was encouraging.
As the rain continued to lash down on the slick Abbey turf, the game remained in the balance with both sides battling to execute that killer ball. On 55, Barry Bannan’s exquisite lofted ball fell to a scampering Lee Gregory but the striker was prevented by a puissant tackle by the imposing Lloyd Jones.
Orchestrating essentially every Owls attack during the second period, Bannan picked his spot from 25 yards on the 64th minute - but United’s number one got down low to paw the Scotsman’s speculative effort.
The U’s hearts were in their mouths five minutes later when Bannan’s close-range effort beat Mitov but couldn’t pass Smith who was looming on the goal line to perform a last-ditch header and prevent the equaliser. It was a critical moment in the tie where Darren Moore’s side were applying heaps of pressure to the home sides’ rearguard, but still they remained firm.
The defence was carved open on the 79th minute when the visitors levelled matters. Dele-Bashiru was fed down the right side and calmly fizzed home.
The Owls were throwing the kitchen sink at the U’s. A Bannan delivery minutes later was pinpoint for an onrushing Liam Palmer, who headed towards the left post but was denied by the remarkable reflexes of Mitov to deny Wednesday a quickfire turnaround.
To a man, Bonner’s side had to grind out a free-flowing remaining moments. Nonetheless, they stayed compact to secure a share of the spoils.
Be sure to back the U’s on Saturday afternoon (23rd October) when they venture to the Montgomery Waters Meadow to take on Steve Cotterill’s Shrewsbury Town. With tickets available to buy here.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Jones, Masterson, Iredale, Digby, Weir, Smith (Tracey, 83), May, Brophy (Dunk, 83), Ironside
Sheffield Wednesday: Peacock-Farrell, Hunt (Shodipo, 69), Iorfa, Dunkley, Palmer, Dele-Bashiru, Bannan, Wing (Adeniran, 58), Johnson, Paterson (Berahino, 58), Gregory
Bookings: Paterson, Palmer
Attendance: 7342 (2440 away fans)