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Mark Bonner rues Cambridge United being ‘bitten by the beast’ in draw with Cheltenham Town in League One

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Sam Smith scores for Cambridge United against Cheltenham Town. Picture: Simon Lankester (56385370)
Sam Smith scores for Cambridge United against Cheltenham Town. Picture: Simon Lankester (56385370)

Mark Bonner was left to rue two points getting away from Cambridge United as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Cheltenham Town in League One at the Abbey.

In the final match of the season, Sam Smith twice gave the U’s the lead but, on each occasion, Alfie May equalised for the Robins, with his second leveller coming in added time.

It meant United finished the campaign in 14th place, their highest spot in the pyramid in 28 seasons, but the United head coach did hope to go out on a high.

“It doesn’t spoil the season, but it does spoil the afternoon a bit because we should have been on the winning team,” said Bonner.

“We said at half time ‘kill the beast or it will come back and bite you’, and it came back and bit us right at the end with a goal that we didn’t deserve to concede from a bit of an error.

“I thought the attacking play was good apart from the last bit at times. We could have been out of sight.

“There was a nice bit of energy in the stadium, the boys played it properly and it was an excellent continuation of what we’ve been this year.

“From a number of weeks now we’ve been safe, and people could say there is not a lot to play for but we’ve always played like there is and I like that mentality about us.

“I think overall, we’re really pleased with, firstly the season, but then the afternoon and what we’ve taken from the game, and what we’ve got out of everybody - it was a good performance.”

Smith’s two goals took his season’s tally to 21.

His first was a curling shot from the edge of the area and the second was a superb first-time volley from Jack Iredale’s sublime pass from the left.

“Brilliant goals, two great goals,” said Bonner. “He probably came close a couple of times to a hat-trick, a header in the first half and a couple of opportunities where he tried to get free in the box.

“It’s a brilliant pass from Jack that puts him in, and he catches it on the volley, he’s got that technique really well.

“It’s a really good performance from him. To break the 20-goal barrier this year in all competitions is outstanding, and between him and Joey [Ironside, who has scored 15 this season] particularly they have taken the lion’s share of the goals for us.

“We’ve found a way of getting two strikers on the pitch without playing a front two, and it’s worked really well for us.”

There was also a hello and a probable goodbye.

Kai Yearn stepped off the bench to make his league debut aged 16.

“Kai has been training with us for months, and done well in lots of games so it’s just nice to give him a little sniff of that at the end of the season to have 10 minutes to run around on the pitch and experience that atmosphere a little bit,” said Bonner.

“All of those experiences are good, and if you’re going to have a career then it has to start somewhere so that’s his first little taste and we will see what he can do as he moves on.”

He came on in the 88th minute for Wes Hoolahan.

The 39-year-old Irish midfielder is out of contract this summer and as he left the field seemed to be saying goodbye to the U’s fans, waving to all the stands and being patted off the pitch by his team-mates.

Bonner was not drawn on Hoolahan’s status, only to say: “I think we have to make sure we try to own a message a little bit on that. I’m meeting him early next week.

“We have to speak and tie everything up, and make proper announcements next week as to what’s happening. I think what you see, basically, when he walks off that pitch is how loved he is, how good he’s been for us, and how much the lads love playing with him.

“I won’t say more than at the minute. We will just wait to see where we are next week, and then announce things as and when all those decisions and discussions have taken place.”

It is anticipated that United’s retained list will be released at some point in the forthcoming week.

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