A significantly improved performance saw Cambridge United secure their sixth clean sheet of the 2023/24 season as they earned a creditable stalemate against Sky Bet League One leaders Portsmouth at the Abbey Stadium...
The U’s, who had endured a testing period which had seen them fail to register a victory from their last seven league outings, needed to rip up the form book against an unbeaten Pompey outfit who were runaway leaders at the top and boasted the meanest defence in the division.
After succumbing to defeat to basement side Cheltenham Town three days earlier, Mark Bonner ringed the changes by naming three new additions to his XI. Jack Lankester was drafted back, whilst Jordan Cousins made his first league start of the campaign and Sullay Kaikai his first since international duty.
The hosts started in a confident fashion by taking the game to their opponents and forcing the first promising attempt on the 8th minute. Following heavy recycling deep down the left, a passing sequence between Lankester and Kaikai allowed the latter to pick out an intended delivery which caused problems for former U Will Norris, who was alert in pawing over his crossbar.
Whilst John Mousinho’s side were winning the ball deep and enjoyed more final third action, they were yet to test Jack Stevens, with his counterpart having to contend with United’s strong press.
Ten minutes on from their previous opportunity, the U’s flirted with goal again when the busy Kaikai linked up with James Brophy in a tight right angle before squaring to a looming Danny Andrew from just inside the box, whose half volley bounced past the post.
Portsmouth conjured up a scare on the half an hour mark when Abu Kamara sent in a cross which evaded everyone and smashed against the post, before falling invitingly to Colby Bishop – the frontman pounced from a matter of yards but was expertly denied by Ryan Bennett’s firm block.
Pompey persisted, but United remained committed. On 34, full-back Zak Swanson made an adventurous run and picked out an ambitious shot, but couldn’t keep it down from 25 yards as it sailed well over Stevens’ crossbar.
All in all, it was a half to be encouraged by where Bonner’s group were concerned. They had limited their opponents to very little - despite them building up steam - and remained on the front foot throughout.
Four minutes after the break, a swift counter resulted in Swanson dribbling into the area and unleashing a vicious shot which was well stopped by the body of Stevens.
As time progressed, Portsmouth knocked on the door just a little more, with Paddy Lane next to try his luck on the 60th minute with a speculative effort which cannoned inches over the woodwork.
United’s aggression out of possession helped carve out their best moment of the game on 71 when substitute Saikou Janneh showcased blistering pace to scamper down the left and whip towards an open Lankester in the middle, who took a touch and struck at goal but Norris was on hand to smother after getting down low to his left.
Both sides were clearly hunting for more than a share of the spoils, but the hosts’ fluidity in attack was pleasing on the eye. On the 86th minute, Brophy darted down the flank, cut inside and teed up livewire Janneh, whose first time shot had the power but not enough accuracy as it went behind for a goal kick.
The backline had to remain watertight too, getting their bodies on the line to see out a flurry of quickfire attempts in the box deep into injury time to ensure another clean sheet to their tally and a creditable point against the early pace-setters.
Up next, the U’s welcome newly-promoted Carlisle United to the Abbey on Saturday afternoon (28th October) – be sure to back the boys in their pursuit of the points.
Cambridge United: Stevens, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Morrison, Andrew, Digby, Cousins, Brophy (Ibsen Rossi, 90+5’), Lankester (Thomas, 88’), Kaikai (Janneh, 67’), Ahadme
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Okenabirhie, May, Gordon
Portsmouth: Norris, Swanson, Poole, Shaughnessy, Ogilvie (Sparkes, 07’), Morrell, Robertson, Lane, Saydee (Anjorin, 56’), Kamara (Yengi, 88’), Bishop
Subs Not Used: Schofield, Towler, Stevenson, Rafferty
Bookings: Kamara, Morrell, Sparkes, Shaughnessy
Referee: Declan Bourne
Attendance: 6627 (1470 away fans)
Man of the Match: Digby