Cambridge United recorded a third consecutive victory in Sky Bet League One as they edged out Crewe Alexandra 1-0 with a gutsy performance at the Abbey Stadium...
A glorious strike from Adam May on the cusp of half-time was enough to separate the sides in a hard-fought encounter to rise the U’s up to 12th and stretch their unbeaten start to 2022 to six games.
Mark Bonner made three changes to the side that impressed in the midweek success over Doncaster Rovers. George Williams and Wes Hoolahan returned from illness and dental work respectively, whilst Sam Smith was restored to the striking department.
The U’s had been in inspired form of late - steering clear of the relegation pack and without defeat in all competitions since mid-December. Hunting three consecutive league wins in the third tier for the first time since April 1994, the incentive was there. Pressure had been heaped on the visitors - suffering from the second-season tag and languishing five points adrift in 22nd. Nonetheless, they had found more rhythm in their last six games, picking up three critical wins.
The U’s, who had lost just one in their last eight against the Railwaymen, stamped some early authority on the encounter. A 3rd minute cross from Jack Iredale floated towards an unmarked Harvey Knibbs who generated the power but not the placement as it fell just wide of the post.
A sharp start was also on the agenda for the Alex, who in the 12th minute switched play well which resulted in Oliver Finney arrowing a neat 15-yard volley that lashed narrowly past United’s left post.
The U’s showcased their stubborn resistance on 24 when Chris Porter was released from a pinpoint pass, but an excellent recovery from Iredale to challenge and clear the danger before the striker could pull the trigger.
The opportunity of the game thus far fell to Knibbs just after the half an hour mark after he was played in by an onrushing Williams down the right - but the winger couldn’t keep the shot down as it flew above the crossbar. A minute later, the full-back was released from May’s sublime over-the-top ball but the U’s number 2 couldn’t touch it down when in a one-on-one position.
The deadlock was broken at a convenient time – going the way of the hosts on the 41st minute after excellent recycling from Knibbs, who made a stern interception and teed up May who unleashed a looping piledriver from 25 yards that clattered the crossbar and into the net to hand United the lead going into the break.
Picking up where they left, Bonner’s side conjured up the first attempt of the second period moments in when Sam Sherring popped up with a venomous header from a Hoolahan corner which sailed wide.
The Railwaymen almost equalised on 52 when Chris Long latched onto a high ball - but he couldn’t steer it towards goal with his first touch – instead catching Dimitar Mitov in the process.
This sparked an authoritative spell for David Artell’s men, bursting into life in the final third and asking questions of the U’s defence. Several stubborn blocks on 64 prevented Long’s shot from a tight angle heading into dangerous territory. The storm was weathered but the tie remained an edgy one.
Perhaps the best attempt to wrap up maximum points fell on the 75th minute when Brophy’s delicate header into the path of Smith sent the striker away who scampered into the box before hesitating and being denied by Zac Williams’ last-ditch challenge.
In added time, Hoolahan picked the ball up in the middle of the park and with several men forwards for United, the Irishman played Smith who drilled an attempt wide of Dave Richards’ left post.
In a heart-in-mouth moment, Substitute Luke Murphy lashed a volley wide agonisingly deep into stoppage time – it proved to be the last action as the hosts persevered for yet another three invaluable points.
With their league ranking looking healthy, attention now diverts to the Papa John’s Trophy Quarter-Final tie away at Rotherham on Tuesday night (25th January). Be sure to back the boys as they creep closer to securing a day out at Wembley.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Sherring, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, May (Worman, 85), Knibbs (Lankester, 74), Hoolahan, Brophy (Okedina, 85), Smith
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Bennett, Dickens, Yearn
Goalscorers: May (41)
Bookings: Iredale, Hoolahan
Crewe Alexandra: Richards, Mandron (Ainley, 69), Johnson, Sass-Davies, Offord, Williams, Lowery, Finney (Griffiths, 81), Robertson (Murphy, 63), Long, Porter
Subs Not Used: Jasskelainen, Onyeka, Salisbury, Tabiner
Bookings: Offord, Johnson
Referee: Sam Allison
Attendance: 5428 (320 away fans)
Man of the Match: May