Elliott 73, Chambers 74
Inniss 4, Wall 48
A much-changed Town surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw with promotion rivals Cambridge in a thrilling FA Trophy tie at the Abbey Stadium.
The Hatters led through headers from Ryan Inniss and Alex Wall but United stormed back to earn a replay when Tom Elliott and Ashley Chambers struck in the space of a minute.
Earlier, Greg Taylor had missed a penalty for the home side and, late on, the Town had goalkeeper Elliott Justham and the woodwork to thank for keeping the U’s at bay as the Hatters held out for a replay on Tuesday.
With just captain Jake Howells keeping his place in the Town side, it was a total of 10 changes that John Still made and one of those had the Hatters in front inside five minutes. Wall was barged off the ball down the left flank and Shaun Whalley’s inswinging free-kick was met by a thumping header by Inniss – scoring with his first touch for the club having arrived on-loan from Crystal Palace on Friday.
A minute later Justham was tested for the first time, getting down well to his right to keep out a low shot from Harrison Dunk.
Portugese midfielder David Viana was showing flashes of flair down the left side of the Town midfield and his pass with the outside of his boot on seven minutes was cleared by the home defence with Mark Cullen sniffing for an easy finish.
It was end-to-end stuff as both sides attacked at will and the Hatters should have doubled their lead on 12 minutes when an unmarked Anthony Charles headed over the crossbar from six yards following Solomon Taiwo’s pin-point right-wing cross.
Cambridge had the first of a total of three penalty appeals in the first half on 14 minutes when Dunk went down under a challenge from Inniss but, as Cambridge pressed for an equaliser, the Hatters defence held firm with Inniss and Charles coping well with the amount of crosses whipped in from both flanks.
Justham dealt with a low shot from Nathan Arnold on 24 minutes before the Town keeper then stopped another effort from the same player four minutes later.
There was a long stoppage in play shortly after the half-hour mark when Tom Bonner came off worse in a 50:50 challenge with Alex Wall. The defender was stretched off and at one point home manager Richard Money came onto the pitch to inspect his player’s injury.
After the break in play the Town came close to doubling their lead when Cullen’s shot from 12 yards was tipped over in unorthodox fashion by home stopper John Sullivan, making his U’s debut.
As the half-time whistle approached the Hatters continue to thwart and frustrate the home side but, after another penalty appeal was dismissed by referee Bennett, United did get the opportunity to notch from 12 yards. Howells was adjudged to have handled a goal-bound shot from Arnold and this time a penalty was awarded. However, former Town man Taylor saw his spot-kick strike the foot of the post before the loose ball was hacked clear by the Hatters.
Before the start of the second half, the Town introduced Jon Shaw in the place of Viana – it was the centre-forward’s first appearance since the two sides met in the Skrill Premier in August.
But, just like in the first half, the Hatters struck early and doubled their lead three minutes after the restart. Kane Ferdinand was the architect, robbing Michael Spillane of the ball down the left and he looked up to spot the unmarked Wall in the six yard box and the striker did the rest, diving to head into an empty net.
After the second Town goal Cambridge upped the ante once more but in truth Wall’s effort had really extinguished the home side’s threat and the Hatters came close to making it 3-0 on 62 minutes when Wall showed great pace and power to set-up Shaw to hammer a shot at goal that was clawed away by Sullivan.
Again it was end-to-end as both sides traded chances. Chambers fired over for United, as did Cullen at the other end. Justham, again did well on 67 minutes, getting down to his right to prevent Dunk’s low shot from finding the target. A minute later Chambers then sent a low shot skimming inches wide of the target.
But the pressure from the home side was slowly building again, though, and on 73 minutes Dunk’s cross was headed home by Elliott at the back post to get United to within one goal of the Hatters.
And, less than 60 seconds later Cambridge completed the turnaround to equalise when Chambers was sent through and he kept his composure to beat Justham with a fine finish. All of a sudden it was all United. Dunk sent a rasping shot over the bar moments later.
Back came the Town, Ferdinand unable to get past Sullivan on 80 minutes, Whalley unable to find Cullen for the chance to shoot, before Howells twice came close to making it 3-2 when curling a free-kick wide on 84 minutes and thumping a shot over two minutes later.
As time ticked towards the final few moments, Elliott saw a shot deflected just wide on 87 minutes before Luke Berry headed over a minute later as the hosts pressed for a late winner.
United came even closer in the first minute of three added when Liam Hughes’ rasping free-kick came back off the post and bounced to safety.
And the Town defence stood firm in the final few moments as Cambridge came closer to finding a winner with Justham denying Chambers twice before Arnold struck the outside of the post with the last kick of the game.
So it ended all square after a breathless 90 minutes to ensure both clubs try again at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night.
TOWN: Justham; Longden, Howells, Charles, Inniss; Viana (sub Shaw 46), Taiwo, Whalley, Ferdinand, Cullen, Wall (sub Rees 77)
Subs not used: Banton, King, Chabata.
Attendance: 3,194, including 687 backing the Town.