Cambridge United picked up a point towards their Sky Bet League One tally as a committed performance saw them share the spoils 1-1 with Ipswich Town at a bumper Abbey Stadium...
A spectacular strike from Harvey Knibbs handed the U’s a deserved lead in the opening stages, but although Joe Ironside was denied from the spot shortly after, the hosts went into the break in the ascendency. Although the Tractor Boys piled on the pressure and equalised through Freddie Ladapo, Mark Bonner’s men remained great value for the draw.
Going into the anticipated tie against their East Anglian rivals, the U’s had laid a great defensive foundation by picking up their first point of 2023 after four consecutive defeats. Acknowledging their underdog approach, their resolve would be tested once more against Kieran McKenna’s men, who had plummeted the most in the division and were hot on the trail of their title rivals.
Following the resolute stalemate against Lincoln City a week earlier, where the side gained their first clean sheet in six games, the Head Coach opted with one change to his starting XI as Knibbs replaced Ben Worman in the middle of the park. Elsewhere, Brandon Haunstrup returned to the matchday squad for the first time since August.
Up for the occasion and backed by a raucous atmosphere, the U’s plugged away in the opening quarter of an hour, forcing the Tractor Boys into very little as they battled for every ball and closed down the backline at every opportunity.
They got their rewards on the 24th minute, sparking delirium with a spectacular opener. After captain Paul Digby charged forward and beat two men, the ball fell invitingly to Knibbs who, from 25 yards, had the time to pick his spot and lash home a scorcher, astutely curling past a helpless Christian Walton.
Buoyed by the breakthrough, the inspired Knibbs picked out Ironside with a sublime cross down the left two minutes later, but the forward couldn’t quite get his head on it from a matter of yards as the linesman raised his flag for offside.
Purring, United were presented with the chance of extending their lead on the half an hour mark after Conor McGrandles’ jinking run into the box was cut short by George Edmundson’s foul. Although Knibbs converted in the midst of the appeals, referee Sam Barrott had already made his decision of a U’s penalty. Applying power, Ironside struck towards his left corner but was denied by Walton’s excellent save.
All in all, they had limited Town’s firepower to very little, remaining in control going into the break but understandably aggrieved not to have more of a commanding lead.
Following their three substitutions, McKenna’s men engineered the first chance of the second period on 47 when Wes Burns’ cross was met by Ladapo’s head, but the soft attempt was caught by Dimitar Mitov.
In a glorious opportunity, Sam Smith raced onto a pinpoint long ball on the 50th minute, beating Richard Keogh with his rapid burst of pace and scampering into the penalty area but timed his last touch slightly wrong as Walton gathered.
The visitors forced an equaliser three minutes later when Kyle Edwards fired across the six-yard box, floating to Ladapo whose delicate flick was enough to help travel past Mitov’s left post.
On 58, Conor Chaplin tricked the U’s with a free-kick from 20 yards down the right, but Mitov got down low to claim it well.
With the encounter turning into one-way traffic, a golden chance was presented to the Blues on 61 when Ladapo’s glancing header fell to Chaplin at full stretch, but the top scorer couldn’t poke home.
United were dealt with a scare on the 74th minute when George Hirst’s pass across the danger area was matched by Nathan Broadhead, but the forward couldn’t break down Mitov, with the Bulgarian remaining brave to protect the ball.
The hosts continued to battle in commendable fashion, attempting to get at their opponents on the counter-attack whenever they could whilst at the same time ensuring that they would be rewarded for their endeavour with a point apiece.
Up next, the U’s make their first visit to Oakwell since 1993 next Saturday (11th February) as they aim to take valuable points from another promotion chaser in Barnsley – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mitov, R. Bennett, Morrison, Jones (Williams, 69), L. Bennett, Digby, McGrandles, Knibbs, Brophy, Smith, Ironside (Tracey, 80)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Haunstrup, Lankester, Okedina, Worman
Goalscorers: Knibbs (24)
Bookings: Smith, Digby
Ipswich Town: Walton, Clarke (Edwards, 45), Keogh, Edmundson, Burns (Harness, 45), Evans, Morsy, Davis (Donacien, 45), Chaplin (Hirst, 72), Broadhead (Humphreys, 81), Ladapo
Subs Not Used: Hladky, Jackson
Goalscorers: Ladapo (53)
Bookings: Edmundson, Morsy
Referee: Sam Barrott
Attendance: 7154 (1485 away fans)
Man of the Match: Knibbs