Cambridge United all but secured their passage into the knockout stages of the Papa John’s Trophy after edging out Tottenham Hotspur U21’s 1-0 at the Abbey Stadium.
In a testing encounter between two lively sides, a smart second-half header from Sam Smith - his third in the competition - proved the difference as the U’s continued their winning start.
Mark Bonner ringed 8 changes to the team that secured a valiant win over Portsmouth three days earlier with George Williams, Lloyd Jones and Adam May all retaining their places. Jubril Okedina made a welcome return to the fold after a six-week injury absence.
A youthful United were rampant in the first round of matches, cruising to a 4-1 victory against league rivals Oxford United. The same feat occurred for their opponents who also plundered four as they edged out Stevenage in a thrilling contest. It set up an intriguing encounter at the Abbey with both sides eager to advance to the knockout stages at the earliest attempt.
The U’s started in the ascendency and generated the first chance of the evening on the 3rd minute. A defence-splitting lofted ball from May in his own half found a marauding Jank Lankester whose attempted chip lacked venom as Kallum Cesay was on hand to clear the danger.
Spurs were showcasing some slick passing moves and it almost paid off on the 9th minute when one-touch football led to a killer pass into Alfie Devine who, from a narrow angle, forced Kai McKenzie-Lyle into a key early save.
Despite no real goalmouth action, it was a fast-paced opening with plenty of attacking intent from either side. An assuring drive forward from Jensen Weir on 24 allowed the space to play George Williams who cut in on his left and drilled a shot which was deflected just wide of the near post. The resulting corner was met exceptionally by the head of Lloyd Jones but a strong block denied a certain attempt to test Joshua Oluwayemi. United’s tails were up after a spell of pressure.
The North London side could not be faulted nonetheless and continued to attack with real pace. After winning back possession in the middle of the park on the 38th minute, Harvey White scampered into the final third and set up Dilan Markanday who jinked his way into the box and unleashed a driven shot that travelled a whisker wide of United’s right post.
An energetic first-half petered out with the hosts threatening courtesy of an ambitious 25-yard shot from May in stoppage time which sailed wide. Despite remaining in deadlock, this spectacle certainly hadn’t lacked any silky passages of play.
Spurs enjoyed a promising start to the second period and looked the most likely to make the breakthrough. The lively Markanday twisted and turned inside the area on 52 and pulled the trigger which was denied by a no-nonsense Lloyd block.
Bonner brought on some fresh legs on the hour mark, handing out a first appearance of the season for Leon Davies and giving Kai Yearn, the U’s youngest ever goalscorer, minutes to make his mark on a very open clash. The 16-year-old tested Oluwayemi with a shot from outside of the box moments later.
The U’s found the opener on the 71st minute when a pinpoint cross down the left floated towards Lankester - whose initial volley looked to be heading inches wide – was expertly guided home by the head of Smith.
The hosts still had work to do against persistent opposition. Five minutes later, lively winger Nile John registered an attempt on goal. The angle was tricky but McKenzie-Lyle was on hand to dive low and prevent an instant equaliser.
The visitors looked like they’d garnered a response on the 85th minute when a deep cross was struck with menace from Devine, but the attempt crashed into the side netting.
It proved the last opportunity of another successful evening for the boys in amber and black - with the three points staying in CB5 and the clean sheet remaining intact.
The U’s are back at the Abbey Stadium this Saturday 25th September, where they will be out to make it four wins in five in League One when they entertain Fleetwood Town.
Cambridge United: McKenzie-Lyle, Williams (Davies, 62), Jones (Iredale, 75), Okedina, Dunk, Weir, May (Yearn, 62), Worman, Knibbs, Lankester, Smith
Tottenham Hotspur U21’s: Oluwayemi, Ma. Craig, Omole, Muir, Cesay (Mi. Craig, 86), White, Lyons-Foster (Alonso, 68), Clarke, Markanday, Devine, John
Attendance: 2,025 (182 away fans)