Cambridge United returned to winning ways in Sky Bet League One with a pulsating, topsy-turvy 4-3 thriller against 10-man Burton Albion at the Abbey Stadium...
In a blistering introduction to the match, Gassan Ahadme prodded home after just 14 seconds in play. An early bath for Jonny Smith eased matters for the U’s, who levelled through Sam Smith. John Brayford dealt a sucker punch before the break, but Smith restored the parity with his second header of the afternoon. The action wasn’t done there – Ahadme grabbed his brace mid-way through the second-half, but the hosts roared back as their number 10 secured the match ball and Liam O’Neil separated the sides to ensure a 100% start to their league clashes at CB5.
Despite not securing victory in either, the U’s arrived on the back of two performances to be inspired by – with the aim of extending their imposing form in CB5. Against a side low on confidence, the Brewers were out to terminate their strenuous start with a first win of the campaign.
Mark Bonner shuffled his pack by making six changes from the side that received a valuable experience against Premier League side Southampton in midweek. George Jones and Lloyd Jones remained in the defence, whilst Paul Digby, Joe Ironside and Smith also kept their places. Despite returning to training, James Brophy missed out on the squad due to illness.
The U’s received a nightmare start to the encounter when, with just 14 seconds in the clock, Burton drew first blood. Racing out of the blocks, Smith whipped a ball into the danger area – it was sliced at by Jubril Okedina, but fell to Ahadme who placed a header home.
Shell-shocked, United were in desperate need of a response. They got that on the 10th minute, but not by their own doing. After a consultation with the fourth official, referee Benjamin Speedie handed Smith his marching orders for what appeared to be an unnecessary off-the-ball challenge on Harrison Dunk.
Starting to probe, the hosts executed their first attempt on target on 20 when Jones’ ferocious shot from 25 yards was straight at the chest of Ben Garratt who didn’t have the time to react, eventually trickling away from danger.
Dangerous with their crossing and aerial prowess, Williams’ deep cross just shy of the half an hour mark found Dunk at the back post, who blasted a header excruciatingly wide of the right post.
The leveller, which had looked on the cards, occurred on 33 when, in a carbon copy of a previous chance, Shilow Tracey produced a sublime cross to pick out an onrushing Smith down the right who arrowed an expert header towards the far post and into the back of the net.
Capitalising on their impressive short period, the Brewers regained their lead on the 40th minute when a succession of menacing corners eventually paid off after Terry Taylor picked out Brayford who headed past Dimitar Mitov from 8 yards.
Going into the second half, the U’s had work to do. The fact they had the advantage in terms of men was a consolation, but they needed to test the visitors a bit more – a change of formation was the solution for that.
It paid its dividends on 53 when Bonner’s side equalised once again. Adam May picked the ball up from outside of the box, attempting a shot-turned-cross which was flicked home astutely by the head of Smith.
Minutes after securing his brace, the livewire exposed the open Brewers with a marauding run but was denied by a brilliant save from Garratt who got down low to force a corner.
The U’s shot themselves in the foot on 66 when Ahadme robbed Mitov off the ball, getting his foot on a slight deflection which sneaked into the post.
Just like they had done twice before, the hosts roared back into the game a few minutes later when Smith grabbed his first hat-trick in amber by volleying home O’Neil’s sumptuous defence-splitting chip.
For the first time in the afternoon, United were celebrating taking the lead on the 78th minute when the side sparked pandemonium in front of the jubilant Newmarket Road End. Jack Lankester floated the ball towards Ironside who held the ball up impeccably, teeing up O’Neil who plummeted a trademark drilled scorcher.
Finally on top, it was an advantage the men in amber would not surrender - seeing the memorably bonkers tie out in an astute manner as they climbed up the league ladder and sent the home faithful home with the sound of coconuts.
Action at the Abbey continues on Tuesday night (30th August) as the Papa John’s Trophy Group Stages get underway when Arsenal’s U21’s come to the city – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Jones, Dunk, Digby (O’Neil, 65), May, Smith, Knibbs (Lankester, 77), Tracey (Ibsen Rossi, 90+5), Ironside
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Haunstrup, Janneh, Okenabirhie
Goalscorers: Smith (33, 53, 69), O’Neil (78)
Bookings: Digby, Lankester
Burton Albion: Garratt, Brayford, Hughes, Borthwick-Jackson, Hamer, Butcher (Adeboyejo, 89), Taylor, Smith, Keillor-Dunn (Powell, 61), Kokolo (Onyango, 45), Ahadme
Subs Not Used: Sinisalo, Oshilaja, Lakin, Castro
Goalscorers: Ahadme (1, 66), Brayford (40)
Bookings: Smith (RED), Hamer, Ahadme, Brayford, Borthwick-Jackson
Referee: Benjamin Speedie
Attendance: 5130 (158 away fans)
Man of the Match: Smith