Cambridge United were knocked out of this season’s Leasing.Com Trophy via a penalty shoot defeat at the hands of Arsenal U21s at the Abbey Stadium.
The U’s did have a lead in the tie which they were required to win to stay in the competition, but Harvey Knibbs’ first half goal was cancelled out by Tyreece John Jules after Liam O’Neil had been sent off and the clash ended with Steve Bould’s Arsenal side taking the spoils on penalties.
United lined up with nine changes from their previous fixture against Crawley Town, with George Maris and Reggie Lambe the only players to have started in the victory over the Red Devils four days earlier.
Callum Burton returned between the sticks as one of those changes, and was into action early as he dropped to his left quickly enough to get his left glove to a stab at goal by James Olayinka for the Gunners.
Louis John made an important interception to cut out a pass through the United six yard box by Nathan Tormey moments later, before Arsenal Konstantinos Mavropanos missed a free header from the resulting corner which the U’s were fortunate to get away with.
Tormey found his way in behind the U’s defence once more on 17 minutes but having got the beating of Callum Burton with a cheeky lobbed effort one on one, the ball skidded wide off the slick surface.
United got a grip of possession through the midway stage of the second half, and looked good for a goal with the likes of Dan Jones and Leon Davies getting forward on both flanks and Andrew Dallas stretching the gunners with his pace.
It was Dallas’ strike partner Harvey Knibbs who opened the scoring though, as the forward found himself in the right place at the right time to slot home a loose ball eight yards out, after Arsenal keeper Matt Macey had initially saved an in-swinging free kick by George Maris.
United were reduced to ten men five minutes into the second period when Liam O’Neil was shown a second yellow card for a mis-timed challenge, which really gave referee Charles Breakspear no option but to give him his marching orders. It proved to be the moment that turned the evening in favour of the visitors.
Tyreece John Jules broke into the U’s area moments later but clipped United’s cross bar with a drilled shot, but the Gunner made no mistake on 57 minutes when he latched on to a cross from the left and wrapped a finish past Burton to level up the scores.
John Jules wasn’t able double his tally for the night after he mugged Louis John but saw his side footed shot at goal saved by the trailing leg of Burton who kept the U’s in it.
The U’s though got better as the game wore on though as they adapted to having ten men and created the clearest openings to win the fixture outright in 90 minutes.
First Harvey Knibbs dispossessed Arsenal’s last man and ran clean through supported by Reggie Lambe, but they couldn’t work a way past keeper Matt Macey as Knibbs got his pass wrong and Lambe drifted offside.
And U’s sub Sam Smith also missed out on the chance to decide the fixture when his stoppage time volley was pushed on to the cross bar by Macey with a superb piece of goalkeeping.
The match and United’s fate in this season’s competition was decided in a shoot out, with the U’s initially taking the lead when Callum Burton saved Tobi Omole’s spot kick, but misses over the bar from Dunk and Dan Jones saw the Gunners swing the tie in their favour.
Cambridge United: Burton, Davies, Darling, John (Knoyle, 65 mins), Taylor, Jones, Lambe, Maris, O’Neil, Dallas (Dunk, 65 mins), Knibbs
Bookings: O’Neil (Red), Darling
Arsenal U21s: Macey, Mavropanos, Burton, John-Jules, McGuinness (Trae Coyle, 73 mins), Medley, Olayinka (Cottrell, 66 mins), Olowu, Omole, Smith, Tormey (Greenwood, 85 mins)