Cambridge United claimed an instant return to winning ways in Sky Bet League One with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory against Bristol Rovers at the Abbey Stadium...
After knocking on the door throughout the encounter, the U’s finally broke through ten minutes from time when Fejiri Okenabirhie struck home a peach of a curler, before Sullay Kaikai opened his account in the dying embers to secure maximum points and mark their 1000th home league game on home soil by moving to the summit of the division.
Heading into the encounter, United looked to rectify their first defeat of the season by notching a third win from their opening four – a feat they had not achieved since 2013/14. By doing that, they would need to shatter the Pirates’ promising start, which had seen them clock five points so far under Joey Barton’s tutelage.
In response to the slender defeat against Stevenage four days earlier, Mark Bonner rotated his league XI for the first time in 2023/24, as an enforced change saw the injured Saikou Janneh make way for Elias Kachunga. In a welcome addition to the bench, Kaikai was deemed fit enough to make the squad for the first time since the curtain raiser.
Shooting towards the Newmarket Road End, the U’s conjured the first attempt of the afternoon within the opening minute when Jack Lankester dispossessed his man in the final third, worked his way into the box and squeezed a shot at Matthew Cox from a tight angle.
Just five minutes later, the midfielder turned provider when he picked up the ball and performed a teasing delivery to Elias Kachunga at the back post – the winger darted his header on target, but it was dealt well by Cox.
Controlling the game well and pressing with high intensity, United continued to pile on the pressure with some dangerous crosses into the box, with their pursuit of breaking the deadlock a strong one.
They received a let off on the 21st minute however, when a weak back pass fell to the hands of a lurking John Marquis in the six-yard box. The angle was a tricky one, but the forward still managed to compose himself and cross into the face of goal – which fortunately for the hosts evaded the men in blue.
On the eve of the half an hour mark, George Thomas was teed up from just under 30 yards and decided to test his luck, with Cox being right behind it and claiming by his left post.
All in all, it had been a half with little to shout about. Rovers had enjoyed their share of the possession, but were yet to test Jack Stevens between the sticks - with all seven attempts falling the way of the U’s.
It was a similar story following the break. Starting with Kachunga, the winger jinked his way into the middle and spreaded a ball towards Liam Bennett, via a dummy from James Brophy, with the full-back blazing over the crossbar from 20 yards.
A few minutes later, a superb passage of play down the left resulted in Kachunga invitingly drilling to Paul Digby, who picked his spot and pulled the trigger, which was crucially intercepted out for a corner.
Calm and collected when called upon, Stevens was forced into a critical stop on 68 when Archie Collins was freed in a one-on-one position. Under immense pressure from Ryan Bennett behind him, he finally got his attempt away but the number one had already closed in to get his body on the line and claim.
The U’s clawed the breakthrough that they thoroughly deserved ten minutes from time when the tricky Kaikai set up fellow substitute Okenabirhie, who took a light touch and showed excellent footwork to create space and curl past a diving Cox from just outside of the area.
In response, the Pirates roamed forwards and almost carved out an instant equaliser through Lamare Bogarde, who rifled from the edge of the area and towards goal, which was valiantly denied by the reactions of Stevens.
Despite the late siege from Barton’s men, the boys in amber stayed committed to not just preserve their third win and third clean sheet of the season, but to notch a second. A blistering counter-attack resulted in Okenabirhie repaying the favour to Kaikai, who tapped home and kickstarted the sound of coconuts. Here’s to the next 1000!
Up next, it’s a trip to the capital next Saturday (26th August) as the U’s do battle with Leyton Orient in front of a sold-out away end.
Cambridge United: Stevens, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Morrison, Andrew (Dunk, 72’) Digby, Thomas, Brophy, Lankester (Ibsen Rossi, 90+5’), Kachunga (Kaikai, 63’), Ahadme (Okenabirhie, 72’)
Subs Not Used: Holden, Okedina, Ibsen Rossi, Simper
Goalscorers: Okenabirhie (79’), Kaikai (90+5’)
Bristol Rovers: Cox, Hoole, Taylor, Crama, Gordon (Vale, 82’), Thomas, Ward, Evans (Sinclair, 60’), Finley (Bogarde, 82’), Collins (McCormick, 70’), Marquis (Loft, 60’)
Subs Not Used: Hall, Grant
Bookings: Taylor, Evans, Hoole
Referee: John Busby
Attendance: 6390 (811 away fans)
Man of the Match: Okenabirhie