Cambridge 0-2 Town
The Hatters got their name in the hat for the first round proper of the FA Cup with a fine victory at Cambridge United.
Paul Buckle’s side were a goal up inside seven minutes when Andre Gray finished well having taken a pass from debutant Arnaud Mendy.
It should have been 2-0 three minutes later but Stuart Fleetwood saw his penalty hit the crossbar after he had been fouled in the box.
At one stage it looked as that miss could come back to haunt the Hatters as Cambridge pressed in search of an equaliser but the Town made victory safe 20 minutes from time when the impressive Gray did brilliantly to set-up Jon Shaw.
Buckle made three changes to the side that beat Nuneaton Town with former U Scott Rendell ruled out through injury, Connor Essam ineligible and Simon Ainge cup-tied. That meant a recall for Janos Kovacs at centre-half, a debut in midfield for Mendy whilst Fleetwood returned from serving a one-match suspension.
The Town began the brighter and took the lead in fine style in the seventh minute. Mendy won the ball well in the middle of the park to feed to Gray who raced through, beat one man before curling a low finish into the bottom corner.
It was a 100mph start and within seconds of the Hatters’ opener, Cambridge were almost level when James Jennings’ low free-kick from inside the D was tipped around the post by the fingertips of Mark Tyler.
However, the Town were enjoying the better of the play but they missed the chance to double their lead on 10 minutes when Fleetwood saw his penalty hit the crossbar after he had been fouled in the box by Ricky Wellard.
While the Hatters were bossing possession they were dealt a blow shortly after the quarter-hour mark when Alex Lawless was stretchered off having been on the receiving end of a Wellard challenge.
Undeterred, the Town continued to press and they almost made it 2-0 on 20 minutes when Gray surged into the box but after Mendy failed to get a shot away, Shaw fired wide.
Cambridge’s threat was coming from wide areas but the Hatters’ back-line was coping admirably with the high balls into the box with Cambridge’s Tom Elliott unable to find the target with a number of headers.
When the U’s did get in behind the Town were quick to snuff the danger with Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Ronnie Henry coming to the visitors’ rescue on several occasions.
Gray came close to scoring his second on 34 minutes when streaking clear of the Cambridge defence before Matt Robinson, on for the injured Lawless, came close to making it 2-0 when he saw a firm effort from just inside the box parried away by Jonathan Hedge.
Mendy fired over on 36 minutes as the Town looked for a second before the break before he went in the referee’s book for a foul shortly before half-time.
Cambridge upped the ante as the first half drew to a close and they almost snatched an equaliser into five of the added minutes when Luke Berry failed to make a connection with the goal gaping following a right-wing corner.
The hosts started the second half like the ended the first and Jennings came mighty close to levelling things up five minutes after the restart when his left-foot free-kick curled inches wide.
The Hatters were looking at their most dangerous in wide positions, using the pace and trickery of Gray, but the hosts came even closer to equalising on 63 minutes when substitute Michael Gash’s curling effort 22 yards came back off the crossbar. The ball then dropped invitingly for fellow home sub Tom Shaw but with the goal gaping, he headed over.
Cambridge continued to push the Town back and Shaw should have hit the target just after the hour when he side-footed wide when well-placed 10 yards out.
The Hatters though were holding firm as the hosts pressed for an equaliser and, after the Town survived another scare in their own penalty box, they made it 2-0 with a goal made superbly by Gray. The scorer of the first goal showed electric pace to burst into the penalty area down the right flank from the half-way line and tee-up Shaw to poke home.
It was a goal of real quality and Shaw almost grabbed a quick-fire double moments later when he saw a lofted effort from outside of the area cleared off of the line by a covering defender after the home goalkeeper had kicked the ball against the striker.
Gray used his pace to good effect with 10 minutes left as the Town looked to put the result beyond doubt but he was unable to pick out JJ O’Donnell having sped clear of the home defence.
Cambridge were running out of ideas after the Hatters had doubled their lead and they were finding it difficult to find a way through a battling defensive display from the Town.
As time ticked down the Hatters had Tyler to thank for a wonderful double save in the final minute to keep the score at 2-0; firstly tipping a Gash free-kick on the post before blocking bravely from the rebound and that proved to the be the last action as the Town held onto secure a excellent win.