Cambridge United kick-started their 2022/23 Sky Bet League One campaign with an accomplished 1-0 victory against heavily-fancied MK Dons at a spirited Abbey Stadium...
The U’s capitalised on an excellent atmosphere early on when Harvey Knibbs, as calm as you like, slotted a composed strike into the bottom corner to raise the roof. Galvanised, this helped them see out a professional first-half. Whilst they were under sustained pressure after the break, Mark Bonner’s men showed real perseverance and grit to ensure they registered their first three points of the season.
In good stead after testing themselves against four higher-league opponents throughout pre-season, the U’s approached the opener with optimism. You couldn’t get more of a tricky matchup than Milton Keynes, one of the favourites for promotion and arriving towards not just CB5, but into the division, with the aim of going one better this time around.
For his first team selection of the campaign, the Head Coach made three changes from the previous weekend’s final warm-up. Dimitar Mitov was drafted in to protect the sticks, whereas Adam May returned to the middle of the park and James Brophy supplied from the wing.
After marching out to a party-like atmosphere, the U’s were almost silenced within the opening seconds when Nathan Holland teed up Matt Smith who lashed at the post from 15 yards – an early let-off.
Fortunately, this seemed to calm the U’s nerves as they enjoyed several promising quickfire deliveries into the box from the left-hand side to fire up the home faithful. Whilst focal point Joe Ironside was involved, he couldn’t navigate towards goal, but did showcase warning signs.
Probing, United drew first blood on the 16th minute to send the Abbey into delirium. After being picked out from a great ball, Knibbs danced into the box, weaved past two men and slotted past Jamie Cumming with aplomb.
In truth, the visitors couldn’t muster up an immediate response from the setback. Instead, it was Bonner’s men who looked the more settled and creative in the final third – their work rate was mightily impressive.
A move of note fell on 32 when Brophy’s immaculate feet allowed him to twist and turn past Henry Lawrence before feeding May who fired a teasing cross towards Sam Smith, but the winger couldn’t guide home with his head from a tricky angle - a play of real promise.
Although MK gradually started to see a bit of the ball as the clock ticked, it was United who created the next opportunity when, on the 42nd minute, Mitov sparked an attack by heading bravely, allowing Knibbs to scamper forwards before Ironside concluded the move with a header which Cumming had to jump to claim. As far as halves go, this was encouraging.
Threatening to turn the screw, the U’s were forced back to defend in their numbers on 51 when a headed clearance fell to substitute Bradley Johnson who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and plummeted inches wide of Mitov’s right post.
The hosts were dealt with a heart-in-mouth moment five minutes later when an MK long ball was pinpoint - causing slight confusion between the U’s backline. Conor Grant was pouncing, he got a touch but went down in the box – referee John Busby waving off the decision.
Just after ringing two changes, Liam Manning’s men enjoyed another attempt on the 63rd minute when loanee Louie Barry played Smith who, from 20 yards, got his angles wrong as it sailed wide.
One-way traffic ensued, with United unable to enjoy real freedom in the final third. In response, Liam O’Neil and Shilow Tracey entered the fold to help break things down and inject pace.
The instructions clearly worked, as the U’s slowed down the tempo, held their nerves and even threatened to clinch it through livewire Saikou Janneh’s impressive cameo. All in all, it ensured the 2022/23 campaign got off to the perfect, winning start. Coconuts commenced, the home faithful went home beaming with delight – football is back.
Up next, attention turns to Carabao Cup action here at the Abbey on Tuesday (2nd August) as the U’s face a familiar opponent in Millwall in the First Round.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Jones, Dunk (Haunstrup, 81), Digby, May, Smith, Knibbs (O’Neil, 70), Brophy (Janneh, 89), Ironside (Tracey, 70)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Taylor, Lankester
Goalscorers: Knibbs (16)
Bookings: Knibbs, Jones
MK Dons: Cumming, Lawrence (Oyegoke, 60), Tucker, O’Hora, Lewington, McEachran (Johnson, 36), Smith, Kemp (Barry, 60), Grant (Dennis, 81), Holland (Burns, 81), Grigg
Subs Not Used: Ravizolli, Robson
Bookings: Lawrence, O’Hora, Oyegoke
Referee: John Busby
Attendance: 6588 (1405 away fans)
Man of the Match: Knibbs