Cambridge United suffered defeat on their final away journey of the 2022/23 Sky Bet League One season as Burton Albion held on for a slender 1-0 victory at the Pirelli Stadium...
Despite a spirited start, the U’s were undone on the half an hour mark courtesy of Mark Helm’s solo strike. For all their plethora of chances near the death, they were unable to convert an equaliser and bridge the gap from the drop, with their ranking of 22nd retained heading into the final day.
Thanks to impressive form of four wins from seven, the U’s had regained their mojo at a crucial time, ensuring that destiny was in their hands heading into the final two matchups. A victory would rise them out of the relegation zone for the first time since mid-January heading into the curtain closer. In their way, a significantly-improved Brewers side, who had lost one of their previous eight on home soil and were eager to finish as high as 13th.
Following the invaluable victory at Accrington Stanley four days earlier, Mark Bonner decided to name an unchanged XI and formation. The only inclusion to the matchday squad was Brandon Haunstrup, who replaced fellow full-back Steve Seddon.
Buoyed by a sea of passionate amber heads, United looked switched on from the get-go. With four minutes on the clock, a diagonal over the top ball from James Brophy floated perfectly to Harvey Knibbs down the left, who scampered and squared to a looming Sam Smith, but the striker was crucially denied by Sam Hughes’ interception before he could pull the trigger.
Dino Maamria’s men, who hadn’t lost back-to-back matches since early January, were the ones contending with the early encounters. On the 14th minute, a scintillating foray forwards from Harrison Dunk saw him beat a challenge to tee up Knibbs ahead of him – he pulled it across to Smith who drilled an effort wide of Jordan Amissah’s left post from 10 yards.
Up the other end, United’s hearts were in their mouths five minutes later when Helm’s exquisite pass evaded the blue defence to pick out Dale Taylor in a one-on-one position – he rounded Dimitar Mitov and lashed towards the goal but Dunk was there with a goal line clearance before the linesman raised his flag for offside.
Shading the prominent chances, the woodwork was rattled on 26 when Conor McGrandles’ corner was – thanks to the pressure of Paul Digby - darted onto the crossbar from the head of a Burton man.
Seconds later, deadlock was broken when the tricky Helm dispossessed his man and concluded a dangerous counter attack by cutting inside and executing a low 20-yard curler in the bottom corner past Mitov.
Down, but not out, United needed to bide their time to settle again. On 40, substitute Ben Radcliffe picked out a speculative effort from 25 yards, but it blazed over the crossbar.
Finishing in the ascendency, a free-flowing passing sequence from the hosts saw Deji Oshilaja pick a pass across the six-yard box to an unmarked Helm who was unable to tap home from a matter of yards. Fortunately, the linesman’s flag was raised to terminate the close shave.
Vying for a quick equaliser, Bonner added know-how and steel to the ranks during the break, as goalscoring hero George Thomas and Joe Ironside were introduced to the fold.
With a storm brewing, the Brewers were agonisingly close to doubling their lead five minutes into the second half when Charlie Kirk played a through ball to Helm who took it around Mitov and, just as the referee was about to blow his whistle for a penalty, the 21-year-old jumped up and smashed the post from an angle before the U’s cleared their lines.
Despite the endeavour, United persevered and got the attempts away. On the 57th minute, Smith played a one-two with Liam Bennett, with the former being found in the right place at the right time again but his shot from inside the penalty area was blocked by the backline.
As the clock creeped towards its dying embers, the visitors were still awaiting that clear-cut chance, with Amissah and his defending four remaining composed to collect and clear every single cross that was picked into the danger zone.
On the 84th minute, Dunk marauded down the left and floated to Ryan Bennett who headed towards the far post but it tapped against the crossbar.
Five minutes later, the whole travelling contingent were mesmerised as to how they hadn’t pulled level after L. Bennett’s cross was pinpoint for Smith, who leapt well and powered a header towards the top corner but Amissah popped up with world-class reflexes to keep it out.
It proved the last action of a bitter night out for United, who acknowledged that their survival pursuit was no longer in their hands owing to defeat - with final-day drama and fortune awaiting them.
Up next, the 2022/23 season is concluded at the Abbey Stadium on Sunday (7th May) when Forest Green Rovers come to town – be sure to back the boys and be a part of an anticipated bumper crowd.
Burton Albion: Amissah, Latty-Fairweather (Radcliffe, 17’), Brayford, Hughes, Ashworth, Oshilaja, Powell, Smith (Kamwa, 62’), Helm, Kirk (Winnall, 83’), Taylor
Subs Not Used: MacGillivray, Walker, Carayol, Gilligan
Goalscorers: Helm (27’)
Bookings: Latty-Fairweather, Kirk
Cambridge United: Mitov, L. Bennett, Morrison, R. Bennett, Dunk, Digby (O’Neil, 83’), McGrandles, Brophy (Ironside, 46’), Lankester (Thomas, 46’), Knibbs (Okenabirhie, 70’), Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Haunstrup, Okedina
Referee: Andy Haines
Attendance: 3523 (1500+ away fans)