Cambridge United returned to winning ways in Sky Bet League One with a clinical 2-0 victory over Accrington Stanley at the Abbey Stadium...
After holding their own during a testing opening 45, the U’s came out of the blocks firing with an assuring second half performance that was rewarded by strikes from Sam Smith and Wes Hoolahan to rise United up to 14th in the table.
Mark Bonner named an unchanged XI from the side that grinded out a 2-2 draw at Burton Albion a week earlier – retaining his pack for the first time in consecutive games since mid-December.
After the ground staff worked their magic getting a soggy surface intact, the clouds dispersed to pave the way for an intriguing clash between two mid-table sides who had enjoyed consistently sound campaigns to date. Accy, embarking on their fourth season in this tier, approached the clash on the back of consecutive wins which has ultimately generated momentum after a six-game winless run prior. As for the U’s, there was contrasting ways to look at their recent form. Although they were winless in six, two defeats in eight showcases stubbornness and makes for better reading.
The visitors started the encounter in an assuring manner, enjoying the possession and forcing United back into the final third where a large majority of play occurred. Utilising their threat from set-pieces - it was a tricky period to navigate, but a test the U’s were passing.
A well-worked attempt on the 9th minute resulted in Jay Rich-Baghuelou volleying well wide from 20 yards in an opening that lacked any real clear cut chances.
With their backs well and truly to the wall, the U’s were dealt a scare on the 26th minute when the best chance of the game fell to their opponents. After twisting and turning inside the area, Mitch Clark cannoned an attempt that blasted against Dimitar Mitov’s left post.
From here, the tide turned slightly in favour of United as they found more freedom on the flanks, particularly through James Brophy who had been the main spark when in a deep position. Ultimately, it proved to be a below-par first half stripped of blistering moments. Bonner’s men had remained firm defensively but hadn’t mustered up a single attempt to test the gloves of Toby Savin.
Out of the blocks firing, they almost conjured an opening on 46 when Hoolahan executed a defence-splitting pass that zipped towards an onrushing Smith. Frustratingly, it just evaded the number 10 who was rushing towards goal.
After a goalmouth scramble in United’s defensive area, a delicate tap from a Stanley attacker looked destined to trickle home before Sam Sherring cleared off their line to save his teams skin.
The boys in amber portrayed their clinical edge by going down the other end and breaking deadlock through Smith on the 65th minute. Adam May did well to strike a tricky volley which forced a low save from Savin who palmed into the path of Smith who poked home his 14th of the campaign and wheeled away in front of a raucous Newmarket Road End just as the heavens opened.
Purring, they almost grabbed a second five minutes later when Smith engineered a move down the right which concluded in Brophy dancing into the box and firing towards goal which was blocked astutely by Michael Nottingham.
In a sequence of counter attacks on the 78th minute, George Williams made a blistering run and performed a menacing delivery into the mixer which Rich-Baghuelou lashed against the woodwork. From here, Stanley raced forwards and found substitute Korede Adedoyin who forced a diving save from Mitov.
The U’s had successive opportunities to kill the game off after 84 minutes when Brophy’s sublime ball released Harvey Knibbs, who scampered forwards one-on-one down the right but blazed the side netting, before Hoolahan lashed wide from a carbon copy movement.
Heroics were performed on the 89th minute when Colby Bishop powered a free header from five yards which Mitov kept out with cat-like reflexes to keep a 10th clean sheet of the season intact.
It was game, set and match deep into injury time when the unplayable Brophy drove up the pitch and teed up Hoolahan who made no mistake by nestling home an exquisite attempt to spark a jubilant post-match atmosphere.
Be sure to back the U’s on home soil once more on Tuesday evening (22nd February) as they look to continue their momentum when they take on another stern opponent in Plymouth Argyle.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Sherring, Dunk, Digby, May, Knibbs, Hoolahan (O’Neil, 90+5), Brophy, Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Taylor, Tolaj, Lankester, Worman, Bennett
Goalscorers: Smith (65), Hoolahan (90+5)
Accrington Stanley: Savin, Clark, Baghuelou, Nottingham, Rodgers, Hamilton, Leigh (Adedoyin, 68), Butcher, Conneely (Pell, 82), McConville, Bishop
Subs Not Used: Isherwood, Procter, Longelo, Morgan, Lewis
Referee: Chris Pollard
Attendance: 5602 (150 away fans)
Man of the Match: Smith