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U's fall to narrow defeat against league leaders

18 December 2021

Cambridge United were edged out 0-1 by Sky Bet League One leaders Rotherham United in an edgy encounter at the Abbey Stadium...

Despite plenty of endeavour against the table-toppers, a sublime finish from Daniel Barlaser just after the hour mark was enough to separate the sides as the U’s stepped into the Christmas schedule in a respectable 16th position.

Mark Bonner named an unchanged side and shape from the team remained spirited throughout the 2-0 defeat to Charlton Athletic last time out - maintaining the same XI in consecutive league matches for the first time. Tom Dickens replaced an absent Conor Masterson in the 18-man squad to make up a youthful bench.

Hunting an instant return to winning ways after a run of one victory in six, the U’s would look towards their clinical instinct of late to inspire a point or three. A seven-point cushion from the drop was strong breathing space – allowing the chance to continue expressing themselves. They would have their work cut out, nonetheless, against the division’s most potent attack (42 goals plummeted) and sternest defence (15 goals conceded) in the Millers, who arrived at CB5 on the back of a devastating 20-game unbeaten run in all competitions to situate them as the league leaders. Involved in promotions and relegations in five successive seasons, they were out to make that six as their quest to secure an instant Championship return remained fruitful.

Despite a cautious opening quarter of an hour, with chances few and far between, the hosts’ application was more than satisfactory as they limited Paul Warne’s men physically and dealt with early deliveries into the mixer. The closest the visitors came was on the 9th minute when Ben Wiles headed wide from 10 yards.

The U’s turned on the gas in what was an excellent short spell of combination play down the left flank. Proving, excellent link-up play from James Brophy and Harrison Dunk carved open the Millers’ defence on several occasions, but the initial crosses couldn’t find an amber figure.

The first shot on target fell to the way of the South Yorkshire side just shy of the 20th minute when, after a well-worked corner, Shane Ferguson lashed an effort with power and precision which Dimitar Mitov parried away from danger.

The gloves of Mitov was tested ten minutes later - striker Freddie Ladapo wrestled past Jubril Okedina and cannoned an attempt from outside of the box that the Bulgarian smothered with assurance.

A crowd-pleasing moment occurred on the 43rd minute when the best opportunity of the match was conjured up. After standing strong, Jensen Weir played in Adam May who showcased real composure to jink towards a dangerous area and generate a shot from 20 yards that Viktor Johansson dived to prevent.

The first period concluded in rampant fashion for the hosts. A defence-splitting lofted ball from May was on a plate for a scampering Sam Smith who beat the offside trap but put slightly too much on his first touch as he collided with Johansson before pulling the trigger.

In summary, the U’s had won their individual battles and got numbers back when needed to nullify their opponents who, when pressing, proved a nuisance. Going forwards, they’d been menacing on the counter which had pleased the faithful home support.

There was no contrary after the interval as both sides looked lively in the final third. On the 49th minute, Weir drove forwards and opted to play in Joe Ironside down the right – the striker drilled a first-time attempt which fell agonisingly wide of Johansson’s post.

Racing down the other end in the next attack, Chiedozie Ogbene played a sweet cross into the path of an open Ladapo who poked on target from six yards but was astoundingly denied by Mitov who performed a reflex save to paw away a certain goal.

Nonetheless, the Millers’ firepower grabbed the breakthrough on the 65th minute. Orchestrated by Ogbebe, who performed a lung-busting run to guide the ball from one side to the other, helped find its way to Barlaser who struck a sweet light finish into the corner to leave Mitov helpless.

In response, United piled on the pressure. After a great run from Weir in the middle of the park, the loanee picked his spot and struck a venomous attempt that went wide of the crossbar on 78.

Unfortunately for the hosts, the game petered out at the wrong time. Despite a late flurry of crosses into the box and possession in the final third, the Millers went closest to converting after Wiles, unmarked and from a good shooting position, was denied by Mitov on the cusp of full-time. Time eventually ran out for the U’s, who were on the receiving end of a performance from a side who showed title credentials by seeing the game out impeccably.

The attention now turns to Boxing Day - where Bonner’s men travel to Adams Park to take on another promotion-chasing side in Wycombe Wanderers. Be sure to back the boys!

Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, Weir, Smith (Knibbs, 81), May, Brophy (Lankester, 81), Ironside

Subs Not Used: McKenzie-Lyle, Worman, Dickens, Yearn, McConnell

Goalscorers:  

Bookings: Smith, Ironside

Rotherham United: Johansson, Ihiekwe, Wood, Edmonds-Green (Harding, 68), Ogbene, Rathbone (Lindsay, 61), Wiles, Barlaser, Ferguson, Smith, Ladapo (Grigg, 90+4)

Subs Not Used: Vickers, Mattock, Sadlier, Kayode

Goalscorers: Barlaser (65)

Bookings: Ihiekwe

Attendance: 5323 (1142 away fans)

Man of the Match: Okedina


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