Cambridge United sparked cup jubilation once again as they dispatched Portsmouth 2-1 with a resolute Papa John’s Trophy performance at the Abbey Stadium...
A well-worked quickfire second-half brace from Harvey Knibbs helped put the U’s into the driving seat. A Michael Jacobs header handed Pompey a consolation at a testing time – but the hosts persevered to advance into the Quarter-Final stage for the first time since 2002/03.
Eager to inject fresh legs into the XI whilst maintaining the core at the same time, Mark Bonner rotated his side by making five changes to the monumental victory at Newcastle United three days later. Liam Bennett, Liam O’Neil, Wes Hoolahan, Jack Lankester and Sam Smith were all drafted back into the squad in the usual 4/2/3/1 formation.
With the sides just three wins from a Wembley final - the prospect of silverware was looming. On cloud nine, United had enjoyed an array of cup success this campaign and were looking for a clinical performance akin to their last outing against Walsall. Where Pompey were concerned, they’d clawed their way into the knockout stages after bouncing back from defeats to AFC Wimbledon and Sutton United by overpowering Crystal Palace U21’s. An enthralling 2-3 success over Exeter City on Friday night set up an intriguing battle between the familiar faces.
In an encouraging start from the U’s, they conjured up the first golden opportunity of the game on the 7th minute when an expert delivery from Hoolahan – making his first ever evening appearance in amber – floated towards Smith from the middle of the park who looped a header from 12 yards which was denied by the excellent reflexes of Alex Bass.
Three minutes later, the 2019 champions were prevented a breakthrough when, in typical Harrison Dunk fashion, the defender put his body on the line to block a fierce Ronan Curtis attempt after the Irish international was teed up by Mahlon Romeo.
Dimitar Mitov was called into action on the 15th minute when George Hirst was played in but his first touch on the cusp of the six-yard box was too heavy as the Bulgarian got down low to gather. The visitors grew into the game from here, seeing more of the ball in the final third and looking inventive, especially under Curtis.
In the last attempt of an otherwise lacklustre first period, Jubril Okedina engineered a well-worked piece of play which resulted in a ball on a plate for O’Neil who unleashed from 20 yards but was denied by a stern block.
United were celebrating the opener on the 50th minute after Knibbs received a pass from the edge of the area before picking his spot coolly arrowing a drilled attempt past Bass and into the bottom corner.
The U’s number 26 was at the double ten minutes later when Hoolahan’s exquisite cross from the outside of his boot sailed past a sea of defenders before landing on the head of Knibbs who placed home to increase their advantage.
Probing, the hosts looked like they’d killed the game off on the 73rd minute after a flurry of close-range attempts crafted by James Brophy. First, Harrison Dunk saw his effort saved before Lankester’s venomous shot was blocked and into the path of Knibbs who fired into the net but the striker’s attempt was swiftly ruled out for offside.
On their next foray forwards on 75, Pompey halved the deficit when substitute Lee Brown’s cross was headed home by Jacobs who had made an excellent run into the six-yard box.
Danny Cowley’s men came agonisingly close to grabbing the leveller on 85 when Jacobs’ ball was headed inches wide from John Marquis.
An astute block from Liam Bennett, who had had another impressive outing for United, prevented Brown’s piledriver in stoppage time. It proved the last opportunity of the encounter as their stubborn character was enough to see off sheer Pompey progression and secure their passage into the next round.
After back-to-back cup success, attention now turns back to the bread and butter that is League One on Saturday afternoon (15th January). Be sure to back the U’s as they travel to Sincil Bank to lock horns with Lincoln City.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Bennett, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, May (Digby, 70), O’Neil (Worman, 45), Knibbs (Ironside, 81), Hoolahan (Brophy, 70), Lankester (Dickens, 89), Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion
Goalscorers: Knibbs (50, 59)
Bookings: Lankester, Iredale
Portsmouth: Bass, Freeman, Robertson (Raggett, 45), Ogilvie, Romeo, Thompson (Tunnicliffe, 60), Morrell, Hackett (Harness, 60), Jacobs, Hirst (Brown, 60), Curtis (Marquis, 60)
Subs Not Used: Steward, Azeez
Goalscorers: Jacobs (75)
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 1308 (283 away fans)