Cambridge United were forced into back-to-back defeats in Sky Bet League One after they were eventually overpowered by title-chasing Plymouth Argyle, who claimed a 3-1 win at Home Park...
Up against it following Callum Wright’s early finish, the U’s battled valiantly to level proceedings going into the break thanks to Sam Smith, who headed home to score for the sixth game in a row.
Coming out of the blocks firing, the Pilgrims roared to maximum points thanks to Joe Edwards and Niall Ennis, as it ensured the visitors remain the bottom four heading into the final three.
Despite tasting defeat for the first in five last time out, the confident underdogs approached the match in their joint-best form of the season and had every reason to believe having proved a tricky test of Argyle’s resolve in recent years. This time around, a mighty shock was needed to bridge the one-point gap from safety – the hosts boasted the best home record in the division and were nailed at the top with the title in their control.
Following the slender 1-2 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers four days earlier, Mark Bonner named two changes to his starting XI as he tinkered with his formation. Opting for a stubborn and defensive approach, Jack Lankester and Harrison Dunk made way for Jubril Okedina - starting for the first time since mid-January - and Steve Seddon, who returned to the flanks.
In front of a deafening atmosphere, the U’s were forced to dig deep within the opening minutes, remaining firm to black the goalmouth action on several occasions.
Starting to make their mark, the visitors imposed themselves for the first time with 7 minutes on the clock after Liam Bennett’s cross was headed to the path of Harvey Knibbs, who blazed over the crossbar from 20 yards.
Deadlock was broken on the 14th minute after Ryan Hardie calmly controlled the ball with his back to goal before slipping in Wright, who picked his spot and slotted into the corner of the net past Dimitar Mitov from just outside the six-yard box.
All in all, United’s response was an encouraging run. Although they were unable to muster up a golden attempt, they had threatened with their run-in behinds, which were a fraction from being onside.
When that chance arrived on the half an hour mark, they took it with aplomb. Following a flick-on from Michael Morrison, man of the moment Smith leapt and picked out a delightful header past a helpless Callum Burton for his 12th league strike of the season to spark jubilation in the away end.
With the hosts agitated following the setback, the U’s were on top for a brief period. Bar a speculative 30-yarder from Nigel Lonwijk following a free-kick on 41, the Pilgrims were unable to show authority.
Turning on the gas in added time, Adam Randell’s through ball sparked a move which resulted in Danny Mayor teeing up for a lurking Bali Mumba on the edge of the area, who had time to jink, cut inside and pull the trigger, but it couldn’t pass the sea of blue, who got low to block and clear their lines.
Moments later, Hardie was released in a one-on-one position, but brave work from Okedina and Mitov helped conclude a promising first half.
With the rain teeming down in Devon, Argyle peppered with United’s goalmouth from the get-go. A counter attack and inciteful ball teed up Hardie down the left on 54, who laid back but Ryan Bennett was on hand to crucially put out for a corner.
The men in green were celebrating the lead seconds later after Edwards collected the ball amidst a plethora of Cambridge blocks, wriggled his way forwards and poked home from a matter of yards.
Former U Burton handed the hosts a scare on 62 after the energetic Knibbs chased him down and almost stole the ball off his toes, but the goalkeeper saw out the danger.
Straight down the other end, R. Bennett sliced at his own post to deny a squared ball across goal after Morrison put the pressure on a scampering Hardie in the area. United were hanging on by a thread.
Despite introducing energy, flair and physicality to the fold in Harrison Dunk, Lankester and Joe Ironside, the visitors were handed a mountain to climb on the 72nd minute when Mumba beat his man and pulled back to Ennis, who slammed home.
Enjoying the better of the opportunities in the latter stages, a headed flick from Ironside landed to Digby who tested the gloves of Burton, before Smith was denied his brace five minutes from injury time after the number 25 denied him in a one-on-one move.
In spite of the final third enjoyment, they couldn’t conjure a consolation in what was a testing day against a free-flowing side, but departed home knowing they’ve still got every chance in their battle for safety.
Next up, the U’s make the trek to the opposite side of the country on Saturday (29th April) as they kick-start the final three clashes with a crucial encounter against fellow relegation battlers Accrington Stanley at the Wham Stadium.
Plymouth Argyle: Burton, Lonwijk, Scarr, Gillesphey, Edwards, Houghton, Randell (Cosgrove 89), Mumba (Earley, 89), Wright (Matete, 78) Mayor (Azaz, 78), Hardie (Ennis, 64)
Subs Not Used: Parkes, Wilson
Goalscorers: Wright (14’), Edwards (55’), Ennis (62’)
Cambridge United: Mitov, Morrison, R. Bennett, Okedina (Dunk, 68), L. Bennett (Okenabirhie, 78), Digby, McGrandles (Thomas, 78), Seddon, Knibbs (Ironside, 68), Brophy (Lankester 68), Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion, O’Neil
Goalscorers: Smith (30’)
Bookings: Brophy, L. Bennett, Morrison
Referee: Ollie Yates
Attendance: 16,326 (292 away fans)