Cambridge United navigated their way towards the Second Round of the Emirates FA Cup after overcoming National League North outfit Curzon Ashton on penalties following a battling 0-0 draw at the Abbey Stadium...
Like they had been at the Tameside Stadium, the U’s were made to work hard throughout the 120 minutes of football, which was testament to the desire of the step six opponents. From the spot, they remained composed to confirm a home tie against League Two outfit Grimsby Town in the next stage of the competition.
With 73 places separating the sides, the U’s were eager to put in an accomplished performance, build on back-to-back clean sheets and get the job done. However, despite being winless in five, the travelling Nash were quietly optimistic thanks to their resolute defensive record.
Following the stalemate against Bolton Wanderers three days earlier, Mark Bonner rotated his side by making five changes. Greg Taylor returned to captain the side, Ben Worman to help hold the midfield and Saikou Janneh, Sam Smith and Shilow Tracey to inject venom to the attack. Elsewhere, Academy starlet George Scales made the bench.
Looking to start in an authoritative fashion, the U’s forced two excellent stops from highly-rated Chris Renshaw just past the ten-minute mark. First, Tracey muscled his way into the box and drilled low, before the sweetest of strikes from 20 yards by Lloyd Jones looked destined to nestle into the top corner – only to be denied by a dive at full stretch.
Compact and more than holding their own, the Nash carved out their first attempt on the 24th minute when captain Craig Mahon tested his luck with an ambitious strike from 25 yards – it got dip and caused a scare, but ultimately flew over the crossbar.
A short period in possession on 40, which originated from the backline, resulted in a piledriver from Joshua Hancock who lashed wide of Will Mannion’s right post.
Having to bide their time, United got the chances flowing a couple of minutes later when Smith’s free-kick from 25 yards was on target, but kept out by Renshaw. The resulting corner eventually found its way to Joe Ironside who rose highest but couldn’t direct it into the net from a matter of yards.
Although they had yet to break the deadlock, the U’s had navigated the cup tie well, but Adam Lakeland’s men had put in another good account of themselves. All that was missing was the goal to ease the nerves which had started to creep around the stadium.
The start to the second half was an encouraging one. Tracey enjoyed freedom to roam down the right and supply into the danger zone, with the majority of the ball situated in the final third.
A pinpoint long ball on the 53rd minute was met by a marauding Smith inside the box – the forward got his shot away, but could only slot it straight at the approaching Renshaw.
Moments passed before United were at it again. Excellent skill from Janneh down the left allowed him to jink and cut inside, before picking his spot with a curler which deflected and clattered against the crossbar. The National League North side had to roll their sleeves up and continue denying the hosts’ pressure.
Ultimately, this was a frustrating test for the U’s. Curzon had camped back in their numbers, but were mightily effective, soaking up the pressure and clearing their lines impeccably.
On the 73rd minute, a teasing Jones cross was met by Ironside, who managed to poke a shot at goal whilst falling but Renshaw was on hand to claim.
The plucky underdogs were scratching their heads wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead on two occasions on 82 when substitute Craig Hobson first couldn’t get a touch from a matter of yards when Hancock supplied him, before the former was presented with a one-on-one position seconds later, but the 34-year-old couldn’t get his angles right as it blazed wide.
It wasn’t the last heart-in-mouth moment, with Curzon undoubtedly finishing normal time in the ascendency. With nothing to separate the sides, despite a plethora of attempts, 30 more minutes were required.
Aiming to secure the scalp, Hancock was the next to come close when he twisted and turned towards the penalty area on 93 before finding the space to fire at goal which Mannion steered wide with his gloves.
Five minutes later, Jubril Okedina teed up Jack Lankester who pulled the trigger from range, but it got yet another vital deflection as it landed on the roof of the net.
With 100 minutes on the clock, Paul Digby’s cross reached the destination of Ironside but last season’s cup hero couldn’t direct his header goal bound as it rose high and wide.
Ten minutes from the potential penalty kicks, Lankester embarked on a promising run, weaving his way through a sea of pink and lashing at Renshaw, who was there to deny.
At the death, Knibbs flicked on Okedina’s cross and Ironside was there to meet it from a matter of yards but he couldn’t produce pandemonium as the inspired Renshaw met to ensure the teams could not be separated after 210 minutes of football.
When it mattered, United held their nerves from 12 yards, with Ironside, Lankester, Knibbs and Digby all converting their penalties to ensure their 2022/23 FA Cup journey continues.
Action at the Abbey continues on Saturday afternoon (19th November) when the U’s hunt a return to winning ways in Sky Bet League One when they take on Accrington Stanley – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mannion, Williams, Jones, Taylor, Brophy, Digby, Worman, Tracey (Lankester, 64), Smith (Knibbs, 75), Janneh (Okedina, 90), Ironside
Subs Not Used: Holden, Scales
Curzon Ashton: Renshaw, Richards, Poscha, Matthews, Hampson, Barton (Edmundson, 116), Mahon (Walker, 116), Dimaio, Hayhurst, Hancock, Waring (Hobson, 63)
Subs Not Used: Ollerenshaw, Hogan, Merridith
Bookings: Hobson, Hayhurst
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Attendance: 2222 (96 away fans)