Cambridge United staked a further claim in their Sky Bet League One survival pursuit after registering a determined 2-1 victory over Fleetwood Town at the Abbey Stadium...
A lightning introduction to the encounter saw Jack Lankester curl home a delightful strike within the opening minutes, before Sam Smith’s composed penalty on the stroke of the hour mark put the U’s in a comfortable position. Although Junior Quitirna’s header set up a nervy finish, the hosts remained resilient to pick up maximum points and ramp up the momentum.
Buoyed, the U’s looked to breathe further life into their potential great escape by claiming back-to-back wins for the first time since September and bridge a five-point gap from safety. A recent switch in formation had given the group a greater vein in the final third and they would look to attack the final eight with tenacity, starting against the equally confident Cod Army, who had been steady all season, tricky to break down and eager to extend their unbeaten run to five matches.
Following the morale-boosting victory at Port Vale six days earlier, Mark Bonner opted with two changes to his XI as Will Mannion made way for Dimitar Mitov, whilst Harvey Knibbs replaced Shilow Tracey in the attacking ranks. Elsewhere, Steve Seddon and Fejiri Okenabirhie made welcome returns to the matchday squad.
The U’s received the perfect tonic in the third minute when a blistering start was rewarded after James Brophy teed up Lankester inside the box, who picked his spot and unleashed an audacious curler into the corner of the net to cue bedlam.
Despite riding on a wave, a lapse in concentration a couple of minutes later almost resulted in the leveller after a misplaced touch helped release Jack Marriott in a one-on-one position, who aimed to chip Mitov but the Bulgarian stood firm at the edge of the box to claim, before United cleared their lines.
Aiming to give themselves a comfortable cushion, the U’s continued to be assertive in the final third. A 13th minute cross from Brophy provided pinball in the box, eventually resulting in Knibbs pulling the trigger from 10 yards which was importantly blocked by Lewis Warrington.
10 minutes later, Harrison Dunk – who was enjoying his 450th appearance for the club – won a free-kick deep down the left, which was whipped in by Conor McGrandles and headed wide by Knibbs. All in all, their application had been strong.
The Cod Army’s experienced frontline were applying the pressure, however, and went close on 34 when a passage of play from Shaun Rooney and Harvey Macadam concluded with a cross to Marriott who was denied by an excellent stop from the firm Mitov.
Following the break, the authoritative hosts raced into the danger zone via Lankester, who picked out McGrandles who with his second attempt drilled near the back post to an alert Brendan Wiredu.
All United, the shots were being plundered in quick succession, with Brophy the next player to test the palms of Jay Lynch as he tried his luck from 25 yards.
The much-needed second goal was fortunately just around the corner. On 54, Brophy wriggled his way inside the box and was fouled by a Fleetwood man, presenting Smith with the opportunity to send Lynch the wrong way from the spot and hand his side a crucial strike at a crucial time.
Eager to put the game to bed and striving for his brace, Smith was released shortly after the hour mark, racing and creating space by skipping past his opposing numbers before firing wide on his right.
With 70 minutes on the clock, livewire Lankester met the ball on the outskirts of the box and picked out a sweet low strike, which was well saved by Lynch who dived to his left.
The Lancashire outfit conjured a consolation on 81 when Quitirna got up at the near post to direct a header inside the opposite post from Rooney’s corner to create a nervy atmosphere.
A range of substitutions to shore up the defence and add energy ensured the U’s would not surrender the lead that they had protected for practically all of the encounter. As coconuts commenced, optimism was in the air. Although they still have work to do in their remaining seven, two pivotal successes means United are well in the fight. Game on.
A sharp turnaround sees the U’s make the journey to Greater Manchester on Monday afternoon (10th April) to take on play-off chasing Bolton Wanderers – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mitov, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Jones, Dunk (Seddon, 88), Digby, McGrandles, Brophy (Morrison, 88), Lankester (Okenabirhie, 79), Knibbs (Tracey, 66), Smith (Ironside, 88)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Worman
Goalscorers: Lankester (3’), Smith (56’)
Bookings: Smith, Morrison
Fleetwood Town: Lynch, Nsiala, Wiredu, Earl, Rooney, Macadam (Hayes, 62), Warrington (Batty, 62), Vela, Patterson (Quitirna, 72), Marriott, Stockley
Subs Not Used: McMullan, Ndaba, Johnston, White
Goalscorers: Quitirna (81’)
Bookings: Brown, Rooney, Wiredu, Earl
Referee: Lee Swabey
Attendance: 6279 (149 away fans)
Man of the Match: Lankester