Cambridge United’s unbeaten run in Sky Bet League One came to an end as they were edged out 0-1 by Cheltenham Town at the Cledara Abbey Stadium…
Despite an encouraging first period, where the U’s generated a numerous amount of opportunities, they were forced to rue them as Matty Taylor’s clinical finish mid-way through the second half claimed maximum points and succumbed the hosts to just their second defeat at CB5 since November.
Both gaining an extra bit of recovery after their respective midweek matches fell victim to the weather, the sides entered the matchup in different spirits, with Neil Harris’ men eager to consolidate their strong form which read at four games unbeaten with the solitary home defeat from six. Whilst the hosts looked to extend their advantage of five points from the bottom four, the Robins were desperate to close the gap and break their current rut of three successive defeats.
Following the comeback victory over Shrewsbury Town a week earlier, Neil Harris named an unchanged side and retained the same options from the bench too. The only change to the XI that completed eight minutes prior to Tuesday’s abandonment was George Thomas making way for Jack Lankester.
During a scrappy start to proceedings, where both outfits looked to find their feet and claim possession, Darrell Clarke’s men got the early foothold by creating the first chance when George Lloyd blazed wide inside the area before Jack Shepherd headed Liam Sercombe’s deep delivery wide of Jack Stevens’ right post on the 10th minute.
A few minutes later, the U’s registered a golden opportunity when Sullay Kaikai played in Lyle Taylor with a pinpoint pass - who beat the offside trap and had just Luke Southwood to beat in a one-on-one position - but the goalkeeper remained firm and showcased heroics to deny. The resulting corner concluded in Danny Andrew picking out a speculative attempt from under 30 yards which wasn’t overly far to being on target.
The encounter burst into life in the 24th minute when the first of a plethora of chances saw Liam Bennett roam on the overlap down the flanks and floated to Taylor inside the six-yard box – the striker had his back to goal but managed to introduce the ball to the target, where Southwood claimed.
Straight up the other end, new signing M. Taylor superbly touched down a lofted ball and drilled into the bottom corner, but his celebration was cut short by the linesman owing to an offside in the process.
The tide turned in United’s favour from here, with their ability to counter at rapid speed causing havoc. Following a mazy dribble, Kaikai managed to invitingly play the ball to an unmarked Lankester, who immediately pulled the trigger but again was stopped by the Robins’ number one.
With 27 minutes on the clock, another chance to break the deadlock went begging as a silky move from Taylor saw him work his way down the left, dart into the area and cut back to Elias Kachunga with power, but the Congolese attacker couldn’t keep it down as he tapped over the woodwork.
Ten minutes before the break, Kachunga battled valiantly for the ball as it bounced to Taylor, who engineered a defence-splitting pass to a scampering Lankester, who from an angle was matched by the inspired Southwood. United were well and truly in the ascendency, but yet to make it count.
Despite that, Cheltenham came out from the break the better side, enjoying more final third action and registering an attempt on goal on 55 when Liam Sercombe tested his luck from distance – only to be stopped comfortably by Stevens.
On the hour mark, the U’s should have claimed the opener when Lankester worked the ball into the danger zone, rounded the goalkeeper and raced to the corner of the six-yard box. Having no option to shoot, he cut back to Taylor but the visitors were alert and cleared their lines.
First blood was drawn on 64 when United were caught in possession in the middle of the park, with the experienced Taylor punishing by striking a clinical finish into the far post to give Stevens no chance.
In response, Head Coach Harris rolled the dice by making four substitutions to help chase the game. Tinkering with a more attack-minded approach, Zeno Ibsen Rossi came on alongside creators Thomas and James Brophy as well as Macauley Bonne for his home debut.
It almost paid off on the 79th minute when U’s forward Taylor held off a challenge and delivered to Bonne from close range – but he couldn’t get the correct connection on it as it bobbled towards a graceful Southwood.
Two minutes later, the deadline day signing was presented with another big chance to bulge the back of the net when Kaikai found him in the area, but the number 27 couldn’t find pounce on the low cross as it shanked wide.
It proved to be the last chance of a frustrating afternoon for the hosts, who couldn’t break down the Robins’ resolute defence, as they saw their unbeaten run terminated.
Up next, the U’s travel down to the south coast on Tuesday evening (13th February) to do battle with table-toppers Portsmouth at Fratton Park – be sure to back the boys.
Cambridge United: Stevens, L. Bennett (Bonne, 69’), R. Bennett (Ibsen Rossi, 70’), Morrison, Andrew, Digby (Thomas, 69’), Cousins, Kaikai, Kachunga, Lankester (Brophy, 70’), Taylor
Subs Not Used: Mannion, May, Gibbons
Cheltenham Town: Southwood, Long, Smith (Bonds, 72’), Davies, Shepherd, Ferry, Pett, Kinsella, Sercombe (Harrop, 93’), Lloyd, Taylor (Nuttall, 76’)
Subs Not Used: Paddington, Williams, Thomas, Keena
Goalscorers: Taylor (64’)
Referee: Ben Atkinson
Attendance: 7047 (207 away fans)
Man of the Match: Lankester