Cambridge United’s promising crop of youngsters retained the Cambridgeshire Invitation Cup after keeping their composure from the spot following an entertaining 2-2 draw against city rivals Cambridge City at the Abbey Stadium...
A blistering opening to the showpiece saw Ben Bradley hand the Lilywhites the lead, but the U’s persevered and came from behind courtesy of clinical strikes from Saleem Akanbi and Brandon Njoku. Although Tom Lorraine forced penalties in the dying embers of the tie, United remained confident from 12 yards before lifting the trophy for the fifth time.
The old-school rivalry was rekindled thanks to devastating runs from both sides. Yet to concede, the young U’s dispatched Ely City 0-3 in a re-run of the 2022 final, annihilated Whittlesey Athletic 0-9 and March Town United 0-1 in the semi-finals. City, who had won the competition a record 15 times, had plundered the goals too – they overcame Wisbech St Mary First 0-2, FC Parson Drove 3-4 and Wisbech Town 6-1 en route.
Seven members of the record-breaking U18s side were handed starts by Jimmy Unwin, whilst fellow young professionals Louis Chadwick, Mamadou Jobe, Joe Tarpey and Saleem Akanbi, who had been gaining vital experience out on loan, were drafted in.
In a blistering opening to the encounter, the visitors opened the scoring in the 2nd minute after Bradley was presented with a chance from 10 yards, who made no mistake by powering home a low attempt.
Adamant to conjure up an immediate response, the U’s had the ball in the back of net for a brief moment as Kai Yearn’s teasing free kick was nodded at by Jobe and poked home thanks to work from Dan Barton and Njoku, but the lineswoman had her flag raised.
Their golden chance fell on the 24th minute when livewire Barton jinked and turned down the right before teeing up Njoku with a cross who volleyed at Joe Welch from a matter of yards.
With the tide turning in the U’s favour, Yearn played in the number nine five minutes later with a defence-splitting pass. Racing towards the onrushing goalkeeper, he had time to pick his spot, but drilled the ball inches wide of the post.
United gained a deserved equaliser on 43 when Barton executed a neat passing move with George Scales before squaring a delightful pass to Akanbi who neatly poked past Welch to level matters before celebrating a goal in the final for the second successive season.
With momentum in the U’s favour, they came out of the blocks firing and turned the tie on its head with 47 minutes on the clock after Njoku collected the ball inside of the area, picked his spot and coolly curled into the corner.
The workhorse striker almost grabbed his brace moments later when Yearn’s dipping free-kick picked him out perfectly, but the downward header from 10 yards bounced and landed on the roof of the net.
One-way traffic continued. But despite their endeavour, the U’s had to remain strong defensively. City registered their first opportunity of the second half on 66 when Ben Nolan picked out Jarid Robson whose effort was gathered well by Chadwick who dived to collect.
The development side were presented with the chance to wrap the game up minutes before injury time when Barton and Yearn combined in the counter attack, but the latter was denied by the feet of Welch.
The hosts were made to rue the shot as substitute Lorraine prodded home from a matter of yards following a last-ditch free-kick to snatch victory from the young U’s at the death and force penalties.
In a spectacular shootout, United proved victorious from 12 yards with a 6-5 success thanks to two fine stops from captain Chadwick and some composed attempts along the way, before collecting their medals and lifting the trophy, which will proudly remain in CB5 for another year.
Cambridge United: Chadwick, Scales, Jobe, Lott, Winterbone, Tarpey, Hoddle (Chadwick, 79), Yearn, Barton, Akanbi (Ismaili, 45), Njoku (Kaunda, 77)
Subs Not Used: Staszewksi, Habib
Goalscorers: Akanbi (43’), Njoku (47’)
Cambridge City: Welch, Nolan, Ofosu, Parr, Battersby, Swinton, Maynard (Rigby, 80), Bradley, Davis, Waumsley (Lorraine, 55), Robson
Subs Not Used: Lorraine, Chandler, Motley, Bridges
Goalscorers: Bradley (2’), Lorraine (90+1’)