Cambridge United advanced into the Second Round of the Emirates FA Cup after overcoming Bracknell Town 2-1 at the Abbey Stadium…
A sublime strike from Fejiri Okenabirhie on the stroke of the half an hour mark - his eight of the season – and an unfortunate own goal from Olukayode Osu moments into the second period gave the U’s a commanding lead. A late consolation from Ben Harris handed the underdogs hope, but the hosts remained alert to ensure their place in the hat.
The U’s were out to extend their unbeaten run to four matches and avoid a potential banana skin by surpassing the opening stage of the competition for a third consecutive season and dispatching an ambitious Robins side who ply their trade four divisions below and were hoping to make the second round for the first time in their history.
Following the determined stalemate against Wycombe Wanderers four days earlier, Mark Bonner rotated his side by naming three changes. Opting to tinker with his midfield, Jordan Cousins, Sullay Kaikai and John-Kymani Gordon were all introduced to the fold.
As the rain lashed down in the opening moments, the U’s knocked the ball around neatly and had a sense of urgency as they probed for a strong start.
Although the visitors were getting their tackles in and remaining compact, their free-kick on the 20th minute allowed the hosts to slice them open and break thanks to a slick passing sequence that resulted in Paul Digby’s attempt from the outskirts of the box, which has firmly claimed by Michael Eacott.
The opener arrived on 26 when Adam May and Okenabirhie combined for an excellent one-two, with the latter showing great composure to execute a delightful strike into the top right corner.
An inspired Eacott ensured the lead wasn’t doubled shortly after the half an hour mark as he clawed away a close-range attempt.
The only attempt Bracknell were able to muster fell to Ashley Lodge on the 39th minute, whose strike from 20 yards went high and wide.
All in all, the U’s had been comfortable in their advantage. Jack Stevens was yet to be tested, whilst they enjoyed their time on the ball, were threatening with their wing play and had cut open the step seven outfit on numerous occasions.
A mix up at the back on the 47th minute handed Bonner’s men the perfect introduction to the second half as May and Okenabirhie put pressure on Osu, forcing the centre-back to stab into his own net despite Eacott’s efforts to prevent the ball from sliding in.
Looking to kill the game, a pleasing move in possession between Okenabirhie and Kaikai down the left helped pave the way to Danny Andrew who scampered into the box and lashed at the side netting just as the linesman waved his flag.
As the substitutions were ringed, United remained resolute and forced very little goalmouth action from the minnows, bar a sense of frustration on 66 when they felt they should have received a penalty, resulting in a dismissal for the visiting coaching staff.
With the game openig up, May teed up Kaikai down the right, who cut inside and curled a shot inches wide of Eacott’s right post.
A nervy conclusion awaited as Harris conjured a consolation on 86 after getting on the end of a pinpoint cross to lash into the roof of the net from close range.
With 11 minutes of stoppage time left to play, the non-league side poured forwards wherever possible and almost snatched a dramatic leveller deep into it when Max Herbert picked his spot from range and pulled the trigger, but it landed just past a diving Stevens’ post.
It proved to be the last action of a tense cup tie, where United importantly secured their passage through and dispatched a tricky Robins side who had given an excellent account of themselves.
Cup competition continues for United on Tuesday evening (7th November) when a Tottenham Hotspur Under 21s side make the trip to Cambridgeshire to conclude the EFL Trophy group stage – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Stevens, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Morrison (Ibsen Rossi, 61’), Andrew (Haunstrup, 57’), Digby (Thomas, 57’), Cousins (Lankester, 73’), Kaikai, May, Gordon, Okenabirhie (Janneh, 73’)
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Brophy, Okedina, Simper
Goalscorers: Okenabirhie (26’), Osu OG (47’)
Bracknell Town: Eacott, Tack (Burden, 82’), Osu, Herbert, Legg (George, 58’), Jackson (Harris, 57’), Harrison, Lodge, Grant, Esprit, English (Owusu, 58’)
Subs Not Used: Gurteen, Holland, Fraser, Vaughan, Richards
Goalscorers: Harris (87’)
Bookings: Legg, Harrison, Harris, George
Referee: Richie Watkins
Attendance: 3411 (345 away fans)
Man of the Match: Okenabirhie