Cambridge United bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup at the Fourth Round with a 0-3 defeat to Luton Town at a sold-out Abbey Stadium...
Early strikes from Reece Burke and Carlos Mendes Gomes knocked the stuffing out of an energetic opening period for the U’s. Despite having more freedom to roam in the second half, they couldn’t break down a dogged opponent as Admiral Muskwe lashed home an attempt at the death – ensuring a spirited end to the hosts’ best run in the competition since 2014/15.
Mark Bonner named two changes from the team that suffered a first league defeat of 2022 at Bolton Wanderers four days earlier. Boosted with his eligibility, Sam Sherring was restored to the fold in the absence of the injured Jack Iredale, whereas Wes Hoolahan replaced Ben Worman. Elsewhere, Greg Taylor made a welcome return to the matchday squad for the first time since mid-August.
A decade on from being well-accustomed Non-League rivals, both sides had enjoyed admirable rises over the past few years. The Hatters were embarking on their third season in the second tier and had more than stabilised themselves, occupying 9th with just a three-point gap from the play-offs to bridge thanks to a devastating start to the year. As for the U’s, the optimistic underdogs would no doubt fancy their chances after climbing up the League One ladder of late and boasting a dominant record in cup encounters in CB5 this season - winning all seven and scoring fourteen in the process.
The U’s, who last proved victorious over their opponents in the Third Round clash in this competition back in 2015, had to overcome blustery conditions in the opening minutes and attempt to use it to their advantage. With their pace on the flanks causing problems, they conjured a great opportunity on the 9th minute when a well-worked drive and pass from James Brophy fell invitingly to Adam May who fired over the crossbar from 10 yards.
Moments after Cameron Jerome sliced a shot from the penalty area past the post, the deadlock was broken after 12 minutes when Burke leapt well to head home Elliot Thorpe’s dangerous free-kick from the far right.
United had their work cut out on the 23rd minute when the Hatters doubled their lead. After Jerome danced into the box, he executed a splitting pass that evaded Harrison Dunk and into the path of Mendes Gomes who picked his spot and unleashed a powerful attempt past Dimitar Mitov.
The hosts’ response was a positive one, they were asking questions of Nathan Jones’ side in the final third but just couldn’t muster up the goal they desperately needed despite endeavour. It proved to be the tale of the first half after being undone by two small mishaps. Although they were down, they were most certainly not out.
The first chance after the interval landed the way of Town on 54 when Muskwe headed into the path of Tom Lockyer in the six-yard box who couldn’t connect and scooped it wide.
Bonner’s men came agonisingly close to grabbing a much-needed consolation on the hour mark. George Williams hooked a delightful long ball to Brophy, who cut back and set up Sam Smith with a delicate pass but the striker couldn’t creep his drilled attempt past former-U’s loanee Jed Steer’s left post.
With the encounter creeping towards its dying embers, Worman, Jack Lankester and Lorent Tolaj entered the fray to add creativity and an extra focal point in an effort to capitalise on a spell where they looked the likeliest to score.
Finding space in the middle of the park, Worman lashed a venomous drill from 20 yards that Steer got down low to smother away - Smith picked it up from a tight angle and cannoned against the crossbar before being deemed offside.
The game was killed off on the 88th minute when Muskwe hit a clean strike that deflected off Sam Sherring and deflected into the net.
It concluded an imposing away performance for the Hatters which put an end to United’s miraculous cup run. Nonetheless, they had every right to keep their heads held high after generating a sheer amount of publicity for the city.
Attention now diverts back to League One as the U’s look to bounce back as they travel to Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening (8th February) to take on struggling Gillingham.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Sherring, Dunk, Digby, May (Worman, 74), Knibbs (Tolaj, 74), Hoolahan, Brophy (Lankester, 74), Smith
Subs Not Used: Gill, Taylor, O’Neil, Bennett, Yearn, McConnell
Luton Town: Steer, Kioso, Lockyer, Burke, Potts, Onyedinma (Bell, 84), Osho, Thorpe (Hylton, 68), Mendes Gomes (Campbell, 84), Muskwe, Jerome (Cornick, 77)
Subs Not Used: Isted, Bree, Neufville, McJannet, Francis-Clarke
Goalscorers: Burke (12), Mendes Gomes (23), Muskwe (88)
Referee: Josh Smith
Attendance: 7937 (1470 away fans)