Cambridge United added a point towards their Sky Bet League One pursuit as they shared a 0-0 draw against ten-man Bolton Wanderers at the Abbey Stadium...
Despite enjoying a man advantage for the latter stages of the encounter after Kyle Dempsey received his second yellow card, the U’s were unable to capitalise on any of the gilt-edged chances they created in what was a thoroughly improved performance.
Following three successive clashes on the road, the U’s made a welcome return to CB5. Here, the aim was clear, add more goals to their game and return to winning ways, particularly after four consecutive defeats on home soil without anything in reply. In their way, a well-oiled Trotters side languishing in the play-offs and boasting the joint-best defensive record.
Following the stalemate at Curzon Ashton six days ago, Mark Bonner opted with two changes to the XI. George Williams returned from his shoulder problem, whereas Jack Lankester was restored to the wings. Elsewhere, Zeno Ibsen Rossi missed out due to injury and Academy prospect George Hoddle made the squad for the first time.
In a feisty opening to the encounter, the U’s forced the first corner through Joe Ironside after five minutes after excellent recycling from James Brophy down the left following Will Mannion’s lengthy goal-kick.
A matter of seconds passed before the Trotters carved their first scare when the ball floated to Iredale down the left – who cracked a belting effort which got a crucial deflection, enough for it to flash a fraction wide of the rising Amadou Bakayoko.
On the 14th minute, the first shot on target fell to the way of the hosts when Harrison Dunk teed up Harvey Knibbs on the outskirts of the box, who couldn’t add venom to his chance as it slowly nestled towards James Trafford.
As the half an hour mark approached, the U’s had certainly imposed themselves - enjoying freedom down the right flank, with Lewis Simper’s long throws causing havoc too. Defensively resolute too – although Mannion was kept on his toes, Wanderers were yet to force him into anything.
On 38, the imposing Elias Kachunga almost caught United out with a well-struck volley from range, but it landed just wide.
Two minutes later, a galloping drive and cut in from Simper allowed him to square to Lankester, who picked his spot and cannoned a shot which got a mighty deflection before sinking just over Trafford’s crossbar. All in all, a really committed first half of football where the U’s had arguably been the better side.
Out of the blocks firing, Bonner’s men were wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead when a sublime passage of play was concluded with Knibbs’ attempt from 12 yards which, somehow, was kept out thanks to Trafford’s immense reflexes.
A breathless period continued. Straight down the other end, Conor Bradley kickstarted a devastating counter, performing a one-two with Kachunga before teeing up Dion Charles who clattered high and wide.
On the 53rd minute, Simper’s corner was pinpoint to Lloyd Jones, who struck a fierce header at Trafford. In what was their fourth attempt at goal, it was evident they were creating the chances, but understood they needed to soon take them.
Liverpool loanee Bradley unleashed a piledriver on 64 from the far right, but it was well-matched by the gloves of the assuring Mannion.
Yet another brilliant piece of play was executed five minutes later when Williams’ drilled cross found Jones, who delicately flicked to Lankester – but the midfielder lashed just over the crossbar.
Wanderers created their most imperious chance on 73 when Jack Iredale’s cross floated to Gethin Jones who executed a free header into the ground, ultimately falling wide of the left post.
Despite remaining in deadlock, the U’s received an advantage moments later when Dempsey received his marching orders after illegally preventing Knibbs from marauding past him.
In spite of that, United needed to remain resolute defensively. In a stop-start conclusion, with a plethora of further cards dished out, they were agonisingly close to clawing a last-gasp winner in the 5th minute of added time after Jones flicked it to Knibbs, but the attacking midfielder couldn’t poke home from the six-yard box, confirming they had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Next up, the FA Cup is calling as Curzon Ashton come to town on Tuesday evening (15th November) in the First Round Replay. Be sure to back the boys as they aim to overcome a tricky minnow and secure a home tie against Grimsby Town in the next stage.
Cambridge United: Mannion, Williams, Jones, Okedina, Dunk, Digby, Simper, Lankester (Tracey, 79), Knibbs, Brophy (Smith, 79), Ironside
Subs Not Used: Holden, Taylor, Janneh, Worman, Hoddle
Bookings: Jones, Digby
Bolton Wanderers: Trafford, Jones, Santos, Johnston, Bradley, Morley, Dempsey, Iredale (Beck, 77), Kachunga (Afolayan, 71), Charles (Thomason, 77), Bakayoko
Subs Not Used: Sadlier, Sheehan, Toal, Lee
Bookings: Kachunga, Dempsey (RED), Bradley, Jones, Santos, Beck, Evatt
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 6819 (1379 away fans)
Man of the Match: Simper