In their first trip to Pride Park, Cambridge United left empty-handed after they concluded 2022 with a 1-0 defeat in a testing Sky Bet League One encounter...
Despite keeping compact and holding their own, the U’s were carved open on the hour mark, with the Rams’ pressure paying off after Lewis Dobbin guided a header home from close range to inflict a first defeat in three for the visitors.
In front of a bumper crowd, the U’s were out to build on two impressive results and improve on their two-point gap from the drop, but knew a tricky test awaited in the Rams, who were nine unbeaten under Paul Warne and eager to enter the new year in the play-off positions.
Following the come-from-behind success against Shrewsbury Town four days earlier, Mark Bonner was forced into two changes to his starting XI. Following their injuries picked up on Boxing Day, defenders Lloyd Jones and Harrison Dunk made way for Greg Taylor and Shilow Tracey, who both made notable impressions.
In an industrious opening to the encounter, where both sides looked to pounce with their pressing, the U’s showcased confidence transitioning from the defence to attack in the 7th minute, linking up well down the right before George Williams’ cross was dealt by Joe Wildsmith.
A few minutes later, the first major opportunity arose when former U Nathaniel Mendez-Laing whipped in a dangerous delivery to Dobbin, but the youngster couldn’t generate enough power to test Will Mannion from yards as the goalkeeper gathered.
With 20 minutes on the clock, the experienced James Collins brought the ball down and hit a clean strike on the turn from the edge of the area, but it was fell invitingly to Mannion.
The travelling contingent were dealt a scare on the half an hour mark after David McGoldrick’s menacing delivery was pinpoint for Korey Smith, who had orchestrated the move but couldn’t finish it as his header was denied astutely by Mannion.
The Rams piled on the pressure as the first period neared its conclusion, with Dobbin and then Mendez-Laing’s troubling crosses from close-range evading its intended targets as the U’s continued to clear their lines and preserve the clean sheet.
Following the break, Warne’s men remained in the ascendency, mustering up a chance on the 52nd minute when the ball fell invitingly to David McGoldrick, whose attempt from ten yards was importantly blocked by Taylor.
The deadlock was broken four minutes later after Mendez-Laing danced into the box and floated a delicate cross to Dobbin who rose well to head home from close range.
In response, an intricate piece of play from Ben Worman helped weave the ball to Jack Lankester, who raced into the box but was under severe pressure as it was cleared. Following a quick throw-in, Harvey Knibbs found space to shoot, but was denied a shot on target by Craig Forsyth’s fine block.
On the 71st minute, Paul Digby teed up Sam Smith from 15 yards out – the striker picked his spot and cracked a drilled attempt at Wildsmith’s right post, but the 27-year-old met it well.
The points were almost wrapped up ten minutes later when Louie Sibley’s free-kick trickled towards the back post where Eiran Cashin was present, but the centre-back could only lash at the post as United were let off.
Five minutes from added time, United strived for the equaliser as Digby rounded off a sustained spell of pressure by heading off target. Despite continuing to plug away, it would prove to be the closest they came as the points remained in Derby.
Up next, the U’s enter 2023 with a trip to Hillsborough on Monday afternoon (2nd January) as they do battle with another promotion-chasing side in Sheffield Wednesday - be sure to get behind the boys.
Derby County: Wildsmith, Smith, Forsyth, Cashin, Sibley, Hourihane (Knight, 67), Bird, Mendez-Laing, McGoldrick (Davies, 90), Dobbin (Barkhuizen, 72), Collins
Subs Not Used: Loach, Roberts, Thompson, Osula
Goalscorers: Dobbin (56’)
Bookings: Sibley, Smith
Cambridge United: Mannion, Williams, Taylor, Okedina, Brophy, Digby, Worman (Simper, 76), Knibbs, Lankester (Ironside, 73), Tracey (Janneh, 73), Smith
Subs Not Used: Holden, Hoddle
Bookings: Brophy, Janneh, Williams
Referee: Will Finnie
Attendance: 26954 (1159 away fans)