Cambridge United will have two more chances to win promotion from Sky Bet League Two after they were edged out 0-1 by Stevenage at the Abbey Stadium...
A header on the hour mark from Luke Norris was enough to separate the sides in what was a testing afternoon for the hosts who, due to their superior goal difference, require a point from their final two games to ensure a return to the third tier of English football.
Mark Bonner made the solitary change to the side that secured a thrilling 2-4 victory against Leyton Orient four days earlier, with Wes Hoolahan returning to the fold.
The task was simple for the table toppers, pick up three points and they’d mathematically secure a return to Sky Bet League One. Boro, on the other hand, had enjoyed a resurgent 2021, but had suffered three consecutive losses so were no doubt eager to return to winning ways and put a slight damp on United’s spirits. With the divisions second-highest goalscorers taking on the third meanest defence, an enticing spectacle was poised.
United’s application from the get go was positive and they carved out the first opportunity of the game on the 6th minute. Hiram Boateng was found in acres of space inside the edge of the box thanks to smart work from Jack Iredale deep down the left. The central midfielder teed up Luke Hannant from 18 yards who blazed just wide of the crossbar.
The visitors themselves posed a threat going forward, handing United a major scare on the 11th minute. Jack Aitchison blocked a United clearance in the box which ricocheted tantalisingly close to the to the far post.
An industrious start from Boateng was almost rewarded moments later when the U’s number 44 picked his spot and attempted a drilled 20-yarder which tested the palms of Jamie Cumming, who dived low to paw away the danger.
United continued to have several sights on goal throughout the opening stages, Hoolahan being denied by Cumming when driving into the final third and Iredale getting too much height from 16 yards in quick succession.
Their defensive capabilities were tested on the 26th minute when Elliott List scampered into the penalty box but was denied by an astute tackle from Greg Taylor before he could pull the trigger.
It was evident that it the U’s time to weather the storm after delightful link-up play from Aitchison and Jack Smith resulted in a pinpoint ball into a tight angle for the latter who got his close-range shot away but was bravely saved by Callum Burton on the half an hour mark.
United were dealt a scare on 37 when Hoolahan was dispossessed in the penalty area after trying to jink his way out of danger, but Declan Drysdale was on hand to see out a dangerous delivery and clear the hosts’ lines.
It proved the last opportunity of an entertaining first half, with Stevenage getting themselves into some good positions and causing havoc on the attack. For the U’s, who enjoyed a bright start, had shown strong resolve near the end to ensure the game remained deadlocked.
United reacted well in the second half and conjured up the first chance after the interval. A deep, inswinging corner on the 51st minute was whipped into the path of an onrushing Drysdale whose powerful header was well-blocked on the line.
After a short spell where both sides were just finding their feet again, Stevenage created some momentum when, after racing down the far right, Smith stung the palms of Burton at the nearest post with an attempt from a tricky angle on the hour mark.
The U’s celebrations were put on hold on the 62nd minute when Boro drew first blood. After List had originally clattered the crossbar and Burton had made a superb reflex save inside the six-yard box, the ball then fell straight to Norris who scrambled home the opener.
Burton was called into action ten minutes later to retain the one-goal advantage. List scurried down the right until he was through on goal with an unmarked Norris looming to his left. But United’s shot stopper was on hand to valiantly prevent the danger by producing a strong block.
Desperate to claw back level terms, the U’s made four changes and attacked in their numbers with the game reaching its latter stages. Shilow Tracey found an open Adam May on the edge of the area, whose strike was well blocked on the 83rd minute.
Despite their endeavour, United couldn’t generate the killer pass in the final moments as Boro held on for the three points.
Bonner’s sides next attempt to get the job done and secure promotion to Sky Bet League One is on their last journey of the season where they travel to the EnviroVent Stadium on Friday night (30th April) to take on Harrogate Town.