U's salvage derby draw

OXFORD 1

CAMBRIDGE  UNITED  1

It was, as they say, a game of two halves as Cambridge United came back from a goal down with a second half screamer from Captain Paul Carden to claim a point in a hard fought Varsity-Derby.

Over a thousand Cantabrians packed into the Abbey Stadium alongside the U's faithful on an icy Thursday evening. University blue may have been substituted for yellow and black but there was no mistaking that this was an opportunity to regain some much needed pride against old rivals.

Before the game manager Gary Brabin had emphasised the importance of consistency promising his team would "roll up our sleeves and fight and scrap" following their capitulation against Wrexham. Oxford, the in form team of the Blue Square Premier, were coming off the back of five straight wins following the appointment of manager Chris Wilder.

Things did not start well for United. Oxford were dangerous from the off, with a penalty claim waved away in the first five minutes by referee Peter Quinn. Cambridge looked hesitant and clumsy on the ball and it wasn't long before Oxford went close in the form of a powerful header from Adam Murray; punched away by keeper Danny Potter. Murray again went close two minutes later this time scooping his shot just over the bar and into the home crowd

The U's were left looking sheepish on ten minutes. Haldane skipped down the right wing for Oxford, befuddling the Cambridge defence before offloading to Constable who in turn squared for a predictably unmarked Murray to slot home comfortably.

The goal brought big Gary Brabin to the outer reaches of the dugout area, a position from which he hardly moved for the rest of the match.

Whether it was the goal was or the thought of what Brabin was planning to say at half time, the Cambridge players slowly began to drag themselves out of their torpor and into the game.

Their first real threat on goal came against the run of play. Crow seemed as surprised as anyone when, after the Us broke to the right, he managed to slip Carden's pass under Oxford's diving keeper only to see his shot bounce agonisingly off the left upright.

Thirty minutes in and Oxford were still looking the more composed of the two sides. Cambridge displayed the odd flash of class, particularly through winger Courtney Pitt who was gradually getting into his stride and working the flanks.

Generally though they were being outmuscled by extremely physical opposition and as half time approached tempers began to fray. When the whistle blew, Brabin did not look impressed as he stormed toward the dressing room.

Quite what the manager said at half time is unknown but it probably wasn't ‘Don't worry lads it's the taking part that counts'.

After the break the Rams looked a different side. Far more organised at the back, they began to show some of the fight and scrap promised. A meaty Oxford challenge on Pitt compounded ill feeling and in the ensuing squabble gangly striker Rendell received a yellow card for dissent.

Cambridge were beginning to menace the visitors back line, with shots from Wilmot and McMahon kept out by the outstanding Billy Turley in the Oxford goal.

A breakthrough started to feel inevitable, Brabin gesticulating wildly from the touchline urging his team to push up. The sublime equaliser eventually came in the seventy second minute.

Paul Carden, set free twenty five yards out, unleashed a scorcher which left Turley rooted to the ground and smashed into the top right hand corner. Ecstatic fans erupted into celebrations in the North Stand while the goal scorer's team mates flocked around him.

The home fans were in full voice as Cambridge pushed for the win. Shots were coming in thick and fast, keeper Turley just about keeping his team in the game. Tensions bubbled over once more as decisions went against Oxford and the yellow card was again flashed for dissent.

Though the action was taking place almost entirely in their own half now, Oxford still looked capable of pinching a winner on the break, drawing big tackles from Tonkin and Coulson in the Cambridge defence.

With just minutes to go Quinn awarded Cambridge a free kick in front of goal and McMahon lined up to take it, Oxford stationing all eleven men behind the ball. It was not to be however. A golden opportunity for the elusive match winner was instead driven straight into the squishy bits of the Oxford wall achieving only an extra couple of minutes injury time as a wincing Joe Burnell recovered himself.

On the final whistle United were warmly applauded by the crowd for their gritty second half fight-back, man of the match Carden revealing that at half time "there were heated words from all sides in the dressing room. That got the lads fired up and I think that worked."

Speaking after the match Gary Brabin preferred to see the result as "a point gained", but in truth, had Cambridge played half as well in the first forty five minutes as they did in the second they could have, and should have , taken all three points from their University town rivals with ease.Cambridge United's next home match is on 14th February against Mansfield Town.

TCS Sport

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