Cambridge 1-1 Cardiff Met (5-4 pens)
A tumultuous and unpredictable affair resulted in the Blues progressing to the next round of the Cup courtesy of a penalty shoot out win over Cardiff Met.
With Cardiff waking early to make the long 5 hour bus journey to Cambridge, the hosts presumed their opponents would be the ones experiencing less than ideal preparation for the 90 minutes ahead. However, just two minutes before the whistle was due to blow, the Blues’ mainstay goalkeeper John Harrison twinged a muscle while warming up, sadly ruling him out of proceedings.
As the start of the match loomed, prospects of finding a replacement seemed scarce. However, having just hauled himself out of bed, highly rated Fitz first year goalkeeper Adib Badri was on hand to field several frantic calls and quickly board a taxi to Clare pitches.
Cardiff were not in the mood for waiting so the thankless task of deputising in goals while Badri arrived fell to the selfless Henry Makings. Always keen for a new adventure, Makings sacrificed a spot outfield for the day to guide Cambridge through the first 25 minutes.
His terrific attitude was rewarded with a vocal, commanding display where he was only troubled once, closing down well to force Cardiff’s number 9 to prod wide when advancing in on goal.
In truth, it was the Blues who ought to have taken the lead in that hectic spell. Stefan Wolf looped a terrific header onto the underside of the bar, with Henry Alexander not quite generating enough power on his header to force home the rebound. Wolf then went close again just 5 minutes later, latching onto a terrific Joe Gregory cross, only to fire over.
With Makings having served his duty and Badri now successfully installed in goal, Cambridge then did deservedly take the lead. Joe Ellis, a standout in the last few weeks, slalomed his way into the box onto to be bundled over by a trailing Cardiff leg. The ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Wolf had no hesitation in dispatching it either, leaving the keeper stranded for 1-0.
Badri then pulled off his first top quality save of the day, reacting fantastically to palm away from an advancing winger as Cardiff went in search of an equaliser. The Blues will feel they could’ve added more before half time, with Ollie Lerway connecting well with Yusuf Mushtaq’s cross to flash wide, and Wolf’s wicked corner delivery forcing Cardiff to clear off the line.
The second half was as frantic and open as the first, despite Cambridge’s hopes to control the tempo of the game more effectively. However, it was the away side who were rewarded for their perseverance to work their way back into the match, a corner delivery unfortunately cannoning its way into the net for 1-1.
The Blues responded well from that setback and went in search of a winner themselves. Lerway and Jack Congdon were a constant threat down the right hand side, sending in countless dangerous balls which Cardiff just about managed to clear.
With the scores still tied, and the promise of another 30 minutes drawing ever closer, Cambridge passed up a golden opportunity to seal the game in normal time. Wolf’s delightful clipped delivery left the keeper stranded and ricocheted off both Oscar Melbourne and Michael Hofstetter, only for Cardiff to scramble off the line as the ball span invitingly towards goal.
The first period of extra time saw Cambridge play some pretty football with no clear cut chances to show for it. Equally, as is usually the custom, the second 15 developed into a scrappy affair as both teams remained intent on not throwing the tie away.
A penalty shoot out seemed a fitting finale for a game full of twists and turns. Skipper Congdon set the tone with an assured kick, before Badri then pulled off a remarkable reflex stop to hand Cambridge the advantage. Wolf’s set piece prowess on show throughout the game unfortunately deserted him ever so briefly, but substitute Nick Gallagher kept his nerve to calmly slot home the final of the 5 penalties to send the shootout to extra time.
Badri then stepped up once more to cap what was a faultless debut, palming a weak effort away, before Campsie applied the finishing touches to finally hand Cambridge the victory.
A topsy turvy tie which the Blues probably wouldn’t like to repeat, but a Valentine’s Day away trip to Bristol awaits in the next round as their reward.