Cambridge United secured three precious points towards their Sky Bet League One tally with a clinical come-from-behind 2-1 Boxing Day victory over ten-man Shrewsbury Town at the Abbey Stadium...
In an entertaining second half of football, Christian Saydee handed the Shrews the lead with a fine drilled attempt. Determined to battle back, Shilow Tracey immediately drew the sides level with a curled cracker, before Sam Smith secured the quickfire turnaround 15 minutes from time as the U’s stayed composed to deliver a return to winning ways.
Back in action following 16 days of rest, the sides had plenty of preparation ahead of the penultimate clash of the year. The top-half Shrews had proven to be well-oiled under the tutelage of Steve Cotterill, priding themselves on a steely defence which had played its part in three successive wins, whilst United were looking to build and secure a first league victory since October.
Mark Bonner named just the one change from the side that played out an encouraging stalemate against table-topping Plymouth Argyle over two weeks earlier, with the Head Coach introducing Jubril Okedina to the fold, who replaced Zeno Ibsen Rossi.
The men in sky blue remained compact in the opening stages, but suffered a setback on the 10th minute when, after a collision with Saydee, Lloyd Jones landed awkwardly on his right shoulder. Despite his best attempts to persevere, he was forced off moments later, paving the way for captain Greg Taylor.
Salop orchestrated the first dangerous opportunity with 20 minutes on the clock after Jordan Shipley was neatly played in by Saydee, latching just inside the box and powerfully driving towards the top corner which was kept out by a fine diving save from Will Mannion.
Arguably the best attempt the U’s generated was on the 33rd minute when James Brophy switched to Ben Worman down the right who floated to Jack Lankester – the midfielder, with his back to goal, attempted a volley from range but couldn’t get it on target.
In a quiet first half, where both teams had nullified the other well, United defensively had done enough by dealing with some dangerous crosses.
Coming out of the blocks in a positive fashion, Bonner’s men engineered a well-worked move on 49 as handy opportunities were handed to Lankester and then Harvey Knibbs, who couldn’t add venom to a header from a tricky angle.
Five minutes later, Harrison Dunk was stretchered off following an injury next to the Newmarket Road End, prompting a double substitution as Tracey and Joe Ironside entered the field.
Forced to dig in, United had to contend with some neat passes which were being sprayed around their defensive area. Salops’ pressure paid off on 64 when strong build-up play resulted in Rob Street teeing up strike partner Saydee, who drilled an excellent first-time attempt home from 20 yards.
Down, but definitely not out, the hosts bounced back three minutes later when Tracey, up against his former club, bided his time on the outskirts of the box by protecting the ball, before picking his spot and executing an unstoppable finesse shot past Marko Mirasi from 25 yards to bring the score level.
On the 76th minute, the U’s completed the rapid comeback after Smith put heavy pressure on Chey Dunkley to nick the ball, race towards goal in a one-on-one position and coolly dispatch to cue pandemonium in CB5.
Just as the fourth official was about to indicate seven minutes of injury time, Bowman, who had been on the pitch for a matter of minutes, received a straight red card for a poor elbow on Taylor.
With the extra man advantage, United dealt with everything which fell their way to protect the one-goal lead, secure a first victory in six and, for the first time since early September, ensure coconuts would be ringing all around the Abbey as they celebrated their precious points.
The festive schedule throws up a first-ever visit to Pride Park on Friday evening (30th December) as the U’s take on Derby County – be sure to back the boys as they look to conclude 2022 in style.
Cambridge United: Mannion, Williams, Jones (Taylor, 14), Okedina, Dunk (Tracey, 57), Digby, Worman, Lankester (Ironside, 57), Knibbs (Simper, 78), Brophy, Smith
Subs Not Used: Holden, Janneh, McConnell
Goalscorers: Tracey (67), Smith (76)
Bookings: Okedina, Williams, Tracey
Shrewsbury Town: Marosi, Pennington, Dunkley, Moore, Pyke (Bloxham, 84), Winchester, Leahy, Shipley, Bayliss, Street (Bowman, 88), Saydee
Subs Not Used: Burgoyne, O’Brien, Barlow, Bailey
Goalscorers: Saydee (64)
Bookings: Pennington, Street, Bowman (RED)
Referee: Sam Allison
Attendance: 5875 (450 away fans)
Man of the Match: Tracey