Cambridge United picked up their first Sky Bet League One point of 2023 as they shared a committed stalemate against Lincoln City at Sincil Bank...
Going back to basics, the U’s remained organised throughout, dealing with everything that landed their way to secure a thoroughly-deserved clean sheet and hand the group a promising platform to build upon.
Heading into the encounter, the U’s had endured four successive defeats to consign them into the relegation zone - but with 20 games to go and a one-point gap from safety, it’s still very much all to play for. Six points and places above them were the Imps who, although winless in seven, boasted the only unbeaten home record in the division, remarkably drawing ten of their 12 ties in Lincolnshire.
A week on from the disappointing 5-1 defeat to a rampant Shrewsbury Town, Mark Bonner opted with five changes to the starting XI. Dimitar Mitov made his first start since mid-October, whilst Lloyd Jones also returned from the shoulder injury he picked up on Boxing Day. Opting for a three-at-the-back system, the Head Coach handed debuts to Michael Morrison and Conor McGrandles, with Joe Ironside being restored up top.
Buoyed by an atmospheric away end, early signs indicated a combative afternoon, with United settling into their new approach and plugging at every ball.
Utilising his pace to get in behind, Sam Smith was released down the left by James Brophy on the 14th minute. After scampering into the penalty area, he pulled the trigger from an angle but the ferocious attempt at goal was denied by Carl Rushworth’s rapid reactions.
In a promising spell of possession, Brophy jinked past two Imps in the area during their next attack, before teeing up Ben Worman who picked out Smith with a delivery which the striker nodded wide.
Continuing to enjoy their share of the opportunities, McGrandles floated a teasing cross towards the head of Ironside on 27, who added the direction but couldn’t generate enough power as Rushworth gathered assuringly
Biding their time, the hosts got the better of the men in amber for the first time on the half an hour mark when Regan Poole’s excellent delivery allowed Jack Diamond to power a header, but the winger couldn’t keep it down as it travelled over Mitov’s crossbar.
A stalemate at the break was a fair indication of the tie so far. Although both sides would have felt it was theirs for the taking, the U’s defensive organisation could not be faulted – the foundation was there to build upon.
In the ascendency following the break, City forced United to camp back, block danger and clear their lines. Despite that, Bonner’s men came close to the opener on the 52nd minute when a sublime ball from L. Bennett was scrapped at by Ironside, whose endeavour ensured it fell invitingly to Brophy who volleyed wide from 12 yards.
Moments after Mitov gathered Diamond’s attempt on target, an industrious run and cut back down the left from Smith was recycled well by McGrandles, teeing up L. Bennett who drilled goal bound from range but was denied by an important block.
Introducing Fejiri Okenabirhie to the fold for his first minutes since injury, as well as Harvey Knibbs shortly before the 75th minute mark, the former made a quick impact by beating his man down the right before the ball was cleared.
Five minutes later, Danny Mandroiu floated an over-the-top ball to House who marauded towards the danger zone but the alert Mitov was on hand to catch the attempt before the forward could get a boot at goal from a matter of yards.
Exploiting their freedom down the right flank, L. Bennett cut inside on his left on 81 and unleashed the shot which was crucially deflected out for a corner by the recovering Max Sanders.
A heart-in-mouth moment landed the way of the U’s five minutes from time. A Poole cross fell to House inside the area who showed great footwork but fired the attempt wide of Mitov’s left post.
In an end-to-end conclusion, United were fully backed to the end by their travelling faithful, who watched the group grind out a fully-deserved point.
Up next is the anticipated East Anglian clash on home soil against Ipswich Town next Saturday (4th February). Be sure to play your part by packing out CB5 and roaring the team on.
Lincoln City: Rushworth, Poole, Jackson, O’Connor, Roughan (Boyes, 87), Sorensen, Shodipo (Vernam, 78), Bishop (Sanders, 78), Mandroiu (Makama, 87), Diamond, House
Subs Not Used: Wright, Montsma, Eyoma
Bookings: House, Roughan
Cambridge United: Mitov, R. Bennett, Morrison, Jones, L. Bennett, Digby, McGrandles (Knibbs, 78), Worman, Brophy, Smith, Ironside (Okenabirhie, 67)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Williams, Lankester, Okedina, Tracey
Bookings: Brophy, Digby, Okenabirhie
Referee: Peter Wright
Attendance: 8266 (803 away fans)