Cambridge United’s FA Cup adventure over after defeat to Manchester United in replay

Charles Martland 5 February 2015

It was a story of what might have been. With just a minute on the clock, Cambridge United striker Tom Elliott struck a post when through on goal at the Stretford End. Had he scored, the U’s might have converted their dreams of winning their FA Cup Fourth Round replay at Old Trafford into reality.

As it was, Manchester United ran out comfortable winners on the night. Richard Money’s men showed grit, courage and determination, but were ultimately unable to match a strong home line-up, featuring the likes of Wayne Rooney, Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie and containing over £230 million worth of talent.

The hosts took the lead courtesy of a fine finish from Juan Mata, who responded quickly to Marouane Fellaini’s back-post header to flick the ball in off the underside of the bar. Cambridge barely had time to respond to falling behind when they found themselves 2-0 down, with the second goal coming from the head of Argentine defender Marcos Rojo. He nodded in from van Persie’s cross to all but seal United’s passage into the Fifth Round before half time.

The visitors, who named ex-United midfielder Luke Chadwick in their starting line-up, were backed throughout by a large band of travelling supporters, many of whom had left Cambridge around one o’clock on Tuesday to arrive in plenty of time. One supporters’ coach was delayed, however, after mechanical difficulties, leaving frustrated fans in danger of missing one of the biggest nights in the club’s recent history, but the majority appeared to have made it to their seats by the time the game began.

The second period proved to be one in which, as Cambridge legs began to tire, United’s dominance in possession began to increase. Young striker James Wilson, who started the 0-0 draw at the Abbey thirteen days ago, added a third for United with a crisp strike to beat Chris Dunn, who had an excellent evening, pulling off a string of saves to avoid further deficit.

Manager Richard Money praised his side’s efforts and was pleased with the U’s defensive shape and organisation. He told BBC Sport “I’m really pleased with them, especially second half….we gave the ball away too cheaply in the first half. But I couldn’t fault them for their organisation and work ethic.” Money will be hoping that the experience of facing United twice inside a fortnight will give the whole club a boost, not just financially but also on the pitch. The U’s host third-placed Wycombe at the weekend and are entering a crucial point in the season, with their play-off ambitions appearing to suffer a blow following a 3-2 defeat to Luton at the weekend.

In truth, the side seventy-one places above Cambridge in the English football pyramid could have helped themselves to more, with Rooney curling a delicious shot wide of Dunn’s far post, before van Persie blazed over from close range.  One felt, however, that further goals would have been harsh on the visitors, who worked hard throughout the ninety minutes.

It remained a night for many Cambridge fans to look back on with immense pride. Carol Looker, from the Cambridge Fans United supporters group, told TCS Sport that visiting Old Trafford was a great experience and was full of praise for her team’s performance: “it’s an experience just to go there…we played really well and now can turn our minds to the league and try to finish as high up as we can.” 6,500 U’s fans made the trip north-west, with Looker also delighted at their ability to out-sing the Old Trafford faithful.

The men in amber did fight until the very end, with Cameron McGeehan smashing a shot wide of the near post with seconds remaining. A routine win in the end for the Premier League giants, but an FA Cup experience which will live long in the memory for Cambridge United.