Cambridge United marched towards the Fifth Round of the FA Youth Cup with a commendable 2-0 victory against Category One outfit Leeds United at the Abbey Stadium.
Kai Yearn handed United the dream start with a sublime free-kick. It only generated further momentum for the inspired hosts, who doubled the advantage through Brandon Njoku’s tidy finish. The professionalism on show from the young shoulders was impeccable, seeing the game out with assurance to secure a home tie against Nottingham Forest in the next round.
Jimmy Unwin made two changes to the side that proved heroic from the spot in the previous round – with Jaydyn Lott and Nathan Brathwaite entering the fold.
Anticipation was in the air ahead of what would be a valuable experience for the young U’s against stern opposition. Occupying 9th in the Premier League North, the two-time winners dispatched Coventry City 1-4 in the Third Round and would be eager to bounce back from a 0-5 dismantling against Blackburn Rovers in their previous match. Despite being labelled the underdogs, the hosts had every reason to be optimistic as they sat 2nd in the Youth Alliance League and of course had enjoyed an excellent run to date, edging out Southend United, Corinthian-Casuals and Oxford United en route.
In the last 32 of the competition for the first time since 2016/17, a squad which was managed by Mark Bonner and captained by Harry Darling, United started in an energetic mood. Full of hunger, they worked up a neat spell in the final third straight from kick-off resulting in a 20-yard attempt from Glenn McConnell which was blazed wide.
Their early endeavour paid off on the 16th minute when the U’s deservedly broke the deadlock. A defence-splitting pass found Saleem Akanbi who was racing away before being brought down on the edge of the box. As composed as you like, prodigy Yearn stepped up and fired home a delightful effort into his far left corner, giving Harry Christy no chance.
The hosts were throwing the kitchen sink at the Whites with constant blistering attacks. On 22, the unplayable Yearn picked out Njoku from the left with the striker hitting it first time but he couldn’t find the corner as it flew wide.
Fifteen minutes later, an applaudable piece of play almost resulted in a second when the dazzling feet of Glenn McConnell evaded several defenders before on the turn unleashing an audacious curler which rattled the crossbar. One-way traffic continued to ensue – the hosts had been phenomenal against their Premier League opponents. To a man, they were breaking down play exceptionally and putting in some shift.
The advantage was doubled and delirium was sparked on the 39th minute when Njoku was slipped in astutely before converting with real composure for United’s 10th goal of the cup campaign. Two to the good, they were in dreamland and cruising heading into half-time.
Unwin’s boys’ application to the second half was strong - limiting Leeds to very few opportunities and still possessing an attacking threat of their own. After 65 minutes, the visitors did have the ball in the back of the net when Ben Andreucci marauded forwards to try and win a long ball. He achieved it, but took it out of the gloves of Tom Finch in the process, before the referee ruled out the attempt.
With 74 minutes gone and the hosts looking great value for victory, a majestic floating ball from Yearn found the industrious Njoku who picked his spot from inside the box and cannoned an attempt that Christy parried for a corner.
Calm and collected when called upon, Finch met Lui Bradbury’s angled attempt from six yards with assurance five minutes later. Scott Gardner’s side were understandably posing a threat, but they couldn’t get behind the U’s stubborn backline.
From the first minute to the last, the boys in amber had been superior and a cut above their higher level opponents. Referee Eji Ejise blew his whistle for the final time to conclude a memorable night for all concerned at Cambridge United – they’d been truly rampant, their magical run was showing no signs of slowing down as they embarked on the Last 16 of the prestigious competition.
Cambridge United: Finch, Lott, Beckett, Nzeh, Hipwell, Hoddle, McConnell, Brathwaite, Yearn, Akanbi, Njoku (Usman, 90)
Subs Not Used: Holden, Chadwick, Scales, Carey-Evans, Kaunda, Brumby
Goalscorers: Yearn (16), Njoku (39)
Leeds United: Christy, Sutcliffe (Wilson, 45), Littlewood (Dawber, 62), Mullen, Ferguson, Thomas, Coleman, Buchan, Bradbury, Andreucci, Carole
Subs Not Used: Diboe, Ombang, Spencer, Douglas
Referee: Eji Ejise
Tickets for the U's Fifth Round clash with Nottingham Forest U18's can be bought here.