Cambridge United were forced to share the spoils with Sky Bet League One opponents Morecambe after a 1-1 draw was played out at the Abbey Stadium...
Starting in the ascendency, the U’s deservedly went ahead in the early stages through Jack Lankester’s drilled attempt, but were dealt with a sucker punch at the end of the first half when Cole Stockton levelled matters. Although the hosts were presented with the main opportunities after the break, they couldn’t navigate the winner.
Heading into the clash off the back of three consecutive defeats, maximum points under the floodlights was seen as the absolute minimum for the hosts, who needed to decrease the five-point deficit from safety and close in on the Shrimps - a fellow relegation rival who won one in seven prior and had recorded just the solitary victory on their travels all season.
Following the slender 0-1 defeat to Portsmouth three days earlier, Mark Bonner opted with an unchanged side for the sixth successive match. The solitary change to the matchday squad saw Academy prospect Kai Yearn replace Jubril Okedina on the bench.
In a high tempo start, the U’s almost grabbed the lead within the opening seconds when a teasing cross from Liam Bennett down the right was picked out by the head of Sam Smith from 10 yards, who leapt well and generated the power but couldn’t direct it on target as it landed wide of Connor Ripley’s left post.
Their early endeavour was rewarded on the 13th minute when a moment of recycling and an intricate pass from Paul Digby released an onrushing Lankester who precisely drilled into the back of the net from close range to finish off an excellent move and hand them the momentum.
With 19 minutes on the clock, Lloyd Jones embarked on a swift run forwards and, despite being under sustained pressure, tested his luck from just under 20 yards which was gathered well by Ripley.
The Shrimps’ number one was forced into two quickfire stops on the 23rd minute when a period of possession resulted in a speculative 25-yarder from Michael Morrison, before L. Bennett’s delicate tee to Joe Ironside allowed the battering ram to hit a fierce angled attempt which was well-prevented.
Derek Adams’ men conjured up their first attempt five minutes later when a great pass from Dan Crowley evaded the U’s defence - creating the space for Jensen Weir to pull the trigger inside the penalty box, but Dimitar Mitov was on hand with a smart stop.
On 39, James Brophy danced down the left and crossed towards L. Bennett who cannoned over the crossbar from 12 yards.
Hunting a crucial second goal to ease the nerves, Lankester almost turned provider on the stroke of injury time when he played in Ironside, whose near-post turn and shot lashed at the side-netting.
On the brink of the whistle, Morecambe robbed play and gained an equaliser when Weir’s shot outside of the box was matched by Stockton’s quick reactions, who headed into the roof of the net.
They were agonisingly close to securing a dramatic comeback seconds later when Weir beat his man and marauded down the left wing and into the area before unleashing a shot which was almost snatched at by Ash Hunter from a matter of yards.
Needing to turn the tide in their favour following the sucker-punch, the U’s tested the Shrimps’ resolve on 56 when Morrison’s crossed was headed on target by Smith but met by Ripley.
Following a triple change ten minutes later, Steve Seddon almost fired a 30-yard free-kick into the far corner, but an excellent paw over the crossbar from Ripley denied the heroics, before preventing Lankester with a similar save in the next attack.
All United with the chances, they continued to give everything for the vital winner. On 80, Shilow Tracey roamed down the wing and crossed towards Smith, who raced to the ball but his shot was gathered.
Ultimately, time ran out for the hosts, whose three-match losing streak had come to an end, but were made to settle for a point apiece.
Up next, the U’s make the short journey to Milton Keynes on Saturday afternoon (11th March) in yet another crucial League One meeting. Be sure to back the boys in front of a bumper away following.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Morrison, R. Bennett, Jones, L. Bennett, Digby, McGrandles (O’Neil, 64), Brophy (Seddon, 65), Lankester (Yearn, 81), Smith, Ironside (Tracey, 65)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Williams, Worman
Goalscorers: Lankester (13’)
Bookings: McGrandles, Jones
Morecambe: Ripley, Love, Rawson, Simeu, Melbourne (Mayor, 29), Gibson, Shaw, Weir, Crowley (Watts, 74), Hunter (Austerfield, 89), Stockton (Duffus, 89)
Subs Not Used: Smith, Delaney, Cooney
Goalscorers: Stockton (45+2’)
Referee: Paul Howard
Attendance: 5225 (122 away fans)
Man of the Match: Lankester