Cambridge United’s Checkatrade Trophy campaign came to an end at the hands of Northampton Town via a penalty-shoot out, following a 1-1 draw in regular time at the Abbey.
United produced an encouraging display and looked to have booked their place in Round Three through a fine first half goal by George Maris, before substitute Kevin Van Veen levelled late and the visitors triumphed 2-4 from the spot.
United lined up with three changes as Dimitar Mitov, Harry Darling and Paul Lewis stepped into the starting eleven.
The U’s took an early lead when George Maris calmly rolled the ball out of his feet and rattled a shot past Lewis Ward at his near post, following excellent build up play between Jabo Ibehre and Reggie Lambe.
The U’s almost forced a second goal shortly after, but neither Maris nor Ibehre could wrestle their way on to the end of two exceptional deliveries into the Cobbler’s six yard box.
Dimitar Mitov remained alert on 32 minutes despite a relatively quiet first half for the Bulgarian, and produced an excellent two handed parry to push away Junior Morias’ near post attempt.
Whilst Ward at the other end pulled out an equally impressive stop moments before the break, when tipping over a well struck shot by Jevani Brown which kept the U’s lead to just one at half time.
The Cobblers were fractions away from levelling early in the second half, when Morias cut in from the left and flashed a shot across the face of goal which looked to have the pace to beat Mitov.
United still looked in control though and had the opportunity to double the lead when Lewis Ward spilt a Maris cross from the right into the feet of Brown, before the Northampton keeper recovered in time to get his right leg behind the forward’s effort.
Maris timed his run to perfection minutes later to arrive unmarked at the back post but failed to hit the target, with Paul Lewis’ drilled pass into his feet proving a little too tough to handle.
Northampton Town manager Keith Curle made his roll of the dice on 68 minutes with a triple substitution, but it only narrowed the U’s firm intentions of seeing out the game and went in search of a winner.
However, the U’s were dealt a sickening equaliser as Van Veen stretched out a toe to poke a cross beyond Mitov in the 89th minute, moments after the U’s had managed to scramble a clear chance away, taking the game to penalties
The Cobblers then held their nerve, with Van Veen, Foley, Waters and McWilliams hitting the net, and Ward denying both Azeez and Brown with a pair of fine saves.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Halliday, Taylor (Amoo, 90 mins), Darling, Dunk, Deegan, Maris, Lewis (O’Neil, 79 mins), Lambe, Brown, Ibehre (Azeez, 79 mins)
Bookings: Maris, Deegan
Northampton Town: Ward, Facey, Buchanan (Roberts, 68 mins), Taylor, Foley, Williams, Morias (Powell, 68 mins), McWilliams, Turnbull, Waters, Williams (Van Veen, 68 mins)
Attendance: 648 (134)