Cambridge United succumbed to a heavy 6-0 defeat at Sky Bet League One giants Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough...
A forced own goal and Barry Bannan piledriver within the opening minutes set the tone for a strenuous afternoon for United. It was simply too much of a mountain to climb when Saido Berahino struck home two quickfire goals before the break. Rampant, the Owls romped to victory when the aforementioned striker teed up George Byers before concluding the scoring with his hat-trick.
The solitary change was made to the side that battled to a stalemate against Shrewsbury Town a week earlier - with Mark Bonner restoring Sam Sherring to the fold in place of Jubril Okedina.
A first trip to the characteristic stadium since 1998 was an evident sign of how far the U’s had come of late. More than holding their own, the next quest in the mission to secure a second season in the third tier was against an Owls side hunting the play-offs after a fruitful run of seven wins in nine which banished their early-season draw specialists tag. Dominant on home soil courtesy of just two league losses, it would be an intriguing test for an optimistic United side winless in six on the road.
Whilst finding their feet, United were carved open on the 6th minute when Lee Gregory powered his way through the backline and delivered a menacing cross into the six-yard box which deflected off Lloyd Jones and into the back of the net.
The lead was doubled four minutes later when Bannan dispossessed in the middle of the park and gave himself time to roam forwards and pick his spot - which he did impeccably, blasting home from 25 yards past a helpless Dimitar Mitov.
One-way traffic ensued. Good combination play down the left resulted in Massimo Luongo scooping into George Byers who powered over the crossbar from 10 yards. Pegged back, it was important the visitors weathered the storm.
They mustered up their first opportunity after 21 minutes when Joe Ironside teed up an unmarked Jones from the outskirts of the penalty area. It was well-hit, but deflected wide of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s left post.
The U’s defensive resolve was tested in separate occasions just shy of the half an hour mark. First, Marvin Johnson leathered an attempt from an angle which Mitov pawed away with a diving save, before Berahino rattled the post from 20 yards which the Bulgarian gathered.
The floodgates were well and truly opened on the 37th minute when a piece of intricate play from Bannan found Berahino who turned his man and rifled home into the corner of the net.
Four minutes passed before the former England youth international was celebrating his brace. Mitov produced an applaudable save to keep out Gregory – however, it fell on a plate to an alert Berahino who powered into the roof to kill the tie off. The U’s frailty in the defensive third had been capitalised on professionally, they struggled to cope with their free-flowing opponent.
Eager to showcase fighting spirit and claw a goal back, United injected fresh legs in Liam O’Neil and Harvey Knibbs at the break.
Further damage was inflicted two minutes after the interval when Berahino scampered down the right, cut inside and set up Byers who nestled goal bound to hand the Owls the dream start and consign United to the polar opposite.
Livewire Berahino’s devastating performance was rewarded on the 54th minute when his near-post strike curled audaciously against the post and creeped over the line to secure the match ball.
Substitute Florian Kamberi almost grabbed a seventh for Darren Moore’s men moments later when he was picked out from a sublime long ball – the first touch was delicate, but the Swiss couldn’t get the accuracy as Mitov met the low attempt.
In response, Sam Smith headed just wide of the crossbar on 68 and O’Neil’s teasing free-kick in the next attempt evaded the U’s attackers who were scurrying towards the six-yard box.
United’s best attempt of the game fell on the 82nd minute when a neat passage down the left concluded in Knibbs jinking his way past several men and into a dangerous position before pulling the trigger which Peacock-Farrell kept out.
It proved the last of the action at Hillsborough with United unable to reward an excellent backing from the amber nation. Despite a challenging 90 minutes, it’s one they’ll be adamant to shrug off and bounce back from in the conclusion of the campaign.
Next up, the U’s look to continue their impressive form on home soil as they welcome high-flying MK Dons for a mammoth test. Be sure to back the lads at our very own Abbey Stadium.
Sheffield Wednesday: Peacock-Farrell, Storey, Hutchinson (Iorfa, 58) , Gibson, Hunt, Luongo, Byers, Bannan, Johnson, Berahino (Sow, 71), Gregory (Kamberi, 58)
Subs Not Used: Wildsmith, Palmer, Dele-Bashiru, Paterson
Goalscorers: Jones OG (6), Bannan (10), Berahino (37, 41, 54), Byers (47)
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Jones, Sherring (Okedina, 62), Dunk, Digby, May (O’Neil, 46), Smith, Hoolahan (Knibbs, 46), Brophy, Ironside
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Tolaj, Tracey, Lankester
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge