Cambridge United were consigned to back-to-back defeats in Sky Bet League One after Cheltenham Town recorded a 1-2 victory at the Abbey Stadium...
Although a penalty from Joe Ironside immediately cancelled out Elliot Bonds’ long-range stunner, the U’s couldn’t capitalise on any momentum as the tide turned in favour of the Robins, who grew as the game progressed and sealed the points through James Olayinka.
Following a first defeat in three last time out, which stretched their winless run to seven games, the quick turnaround gave the U’s the chance to put things right against their Gloucestershire opponents – who similarly were yet to secure a league victory in 2023. With Wade Elliott’s team four points ahead of the hosts, it was an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap and ascend up the division.
Following the defeat to Barnsley three days earlier, Mark Bonner opted with two changes to his starting XI. In an enforced change, Jack Lankester replaced Harvey Knibbs owing to an ankle injury, whereas James Brophy was restored to the left side of midfield for his 30th start of the season.
With the floodlights beaming down, the Robins carved out the first golden opportunity with three minutes on the clock when Charlie Brown picked his spot from under 25 yards and rattled the crossbar.
Biding their time to pick up steam, the U’s started to gain some momentum on the 15th minute when Jack Lankester’s teasing delivery was headed towards the corner of the six-yard box by Sam Smith, but a racing Lloyd Jones couldn’t get a boot to it despite endeavour.
Working their way into the encounter, the hosts started to enjoy more possession in the final third. Thanks to Michael Morrison’s killer pass, Liam Bennett was released down the right - who immediately drilled towards Ironside but excellent defending from Ryan Jackson forced a corner.
United’s talisman went agonisingly close to drawing first blood on 23 after a well-worked move from Paul Digby helped generate an opportunity for the industrious L. Bennett, picking out the number nine whose close-range header was denied by the reflexes of Luke Southwood.
An intricate piece of play moments before half time almost paid its dividends when a neat flick from Ironside teed up Lankester from 12 yards, but the attacking midfielder could only poke towards Southwood who gathered the ball.
Following a quiet introduction to the second period, out of nowhere Bonds attempted the spectacular from 30 yards and succeeded, as his unstoppable attempt on the 57th minute arrowed into the far corner and over a helpless Dimitar Mitov.
Conjuring a rapid response, the U’s were awarded a penalty a matter of minutes later after Conor McGrandles was fouled by Sean Long. Up stepped Ironside, who made no mistake in the high-pressure situation, putting his foot through it and cooly dispatching with aplomb.
Now in the ascendency, United full-back L. Bennett embarked on a great dribble down the right on 65, before cutting inside and pulling the trigger which flew wide of Southwood’s right post.
The hosts were handed a brief scare on the 72nd minute when substitute Aidan Keena executed into the net after Mitov denied Alfie May’s attempt, but the linesman already had his flag up.
Capitalising on their momentum, Elliott’s side found themselves ahead for the second time five minutes later after Keena darted into the edge of the box and picked out Olayinka who stabbed home.
Keena’s unplayable cameo continued when, on the 81st minute, he struck from 15 yards but was denied by an important defensive header from Ryan Bennett.
It proved the last action of a frustrating evening for the U’s, who were condemned to back-to-back defeats to extend their winless run to eight games.
Up next, the U’s do battle on home soil again on Saturday afternoon (18th February) when they welcome Oxford United to CB5 – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Morrison, R. Bennett, Jones, L. Bennett, Digby, McGrandles, Brophy, Lankester (Tracey, 79), Smith, Ironside
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Williams, Haunstrup, Okedina, Worman, Hoddle
Goalscorers: Ironside (60’)
Cheltenham Town: Southwood, Jackson, Long, Taylor, Raglan, Broom, Bonds, Sercombe, Perry (Olayinka, 69), Brown (Keena, 61), May (Norton, 90+2)
Subs Not Used: MacDonald, Baggott, Barkers, Sambu
Goalscorers: Bonds (57’), Olayinka (78’)
Bookings: Perry, May
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 5018 (126 away fans)