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Jack Lankester and Ipswich Town loanee Gassan Ahadme score in first-half to see Cambridge United to opening day victory against fancied Oxford United

If Mark Bonner had wrote down a dream opening day script ahead of Cambridge United kicking off their Sky Bet League One season against fancied Oxford United it would have looked very much like what unfolded at a packed out Abbey Stadium this afternoon.

Despite Liam Manning’s visitors enjoying plenty more possession it was the hosts who ended up making the most of their limited sights of goal with a first-half rebounded strike from Jack Lankester and a towering header from Ipswich Town loanee Gassan Ahadme seeing them to a 2-0 victory.

The defending from Bonner’s side would be best described as ‘stoic’ with Oxford, time and time again, having to pass the ball sideways or seeing a solid last-gasp intervention remove the danger.

Ipswich Town loanee Gassaan Ahadme celebrates his header which put Cambridge United 2-0 up Picture: Keith Heppell
Ipswich Town loanee Gassaan Ahadme celebrates his header which put Cambridge United 2-0 up Picture: Keith Heppell

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Jack Stevens marked his debut against his former club with his first clean sheet, thanks to a fine low first-half save to deny Cam Brannagan’s fierce effort.

In essence though, Manning’s side huffed and puffed in the second half without being able to blow the door down while substitute Sullay Kaikai, another of the new additions at the Abbey, almost added a third goal, but for a good save from Brighton loanee James Beadle.

There was a poignant minute’s applause ahead of kick-off as the Abbey stood to pay their respects to lifelong fan and CFU chief Robert Osbourn, who died last week aged 69.

Saikou Janneh put in a man-of-the-match performance down the left-hand side for Mark Bonner’s U’s Picture: Keith Heppell
Saikou Janneh put in a man-of-the-match performance down the left-hand side for Mark Bonner’s U’s Picture: Keith Heppell

Amid light rain, the first notable action arrived in the third minute when Ahadme was brought down on the right apex of the penalty area by Jordan Thorniley. Andrew disappointingly sent his free kick straight into the wall and Lankester hit a wild effort well off target as it deflected out into his path.

A few minutes later Oxford’s Marcus Browne flew past Liam Bennett with Mark Harris’ touch on his low cross being deflected wide at the near post.

Having written out some pressure from Liam Manning’s visitors, it was Cambridge who took the lead in the 15th minute.

The hosts now had a swagger in their play, zipping the ball about as the rain, and an eye-catching bit of play suddenly had them celebrating a 2-0 lead inside 28 minutes.

Lankester drew applause for a back-heel to get the ball out to Saikou Janneh who showed his pace down the left to get into a position to stand up a cross which saw Ahadme get ahead of his marker to power a header home from five yards.

Playing on the crest of a wave, roared on by the strong home support, Beadle came to his side’s rescue with a diving punch to clear a deep ball into the box.

Oxford were dominating possession but with a lot of sideway passing with Cambridge looking solid behind the ball, leaving little space for Manning’s side to find a way to break them down.

It was from a free kick just outside the area in the 45th minute that they finally got their chance, with Janneh knocking over Rodrigues as he tried to benefit from using his body on a chase back. McEachran ended up laying it across for Bannagan to have a pop, while the strike was good, the low save to Stevens’ left was even better with Janneh picking up the loose ball.

The last notable action of the half saw Rodrigues fed in space on a counter but after cutting inside he didn’t get hold of his shot and it rolled through to Stevens.

It was Bonner’s side who started the second half on the front foot with livewire Janneh cutting in from left but firing well over.

Tentative shouts for a penalty on Rodrigues under the attention of Paul Digby did not interest the referee in the 56th minute as Oxford looked for a way back into the game.

Brophy found Janneh with a cross to the far post up the other end but his header was comfortably caught.

Either side of the hour mark both sides had efforts from outside the area, with Lankester’s fierce drive finding Beadle behind it before Brannagan fired wide of Steven’s left-hand post from a similar distance.

Manning made a double change in a bid to get his side a goal and Stan Mills was soon having an impact on the right-hand side with his dangerous cross forcing Liam Bennett to divert behind before the number seven blasted over when the corner broke loose to him.

With 71 minutes on the clock Bonner made his first substitutions with news signings Jordan Cousins and Elias Kachunga entering the fray for Janneh and Lankester, who both got standing ovations.

Another double change was made by Manning whose side began to threaten further with Liam Bennett having to divert the ball over his own crossbar from the first of three corners before Brophy deflecting Mills’ half volley over to concede another.

Mills continued to be at the heart of the action, having a downward header saved by Stevens from a cute chip into the box from Rodrigues before Liam Bennett once again mopped up.

Kaikai received lengthy treatment in the 79th minute which allowed United a brether, with the new signing eventually rejoining the action and almost scoring on a counter, with Beadle making a good low save in six minutes of added time.

Up the other end substitute Marcus McGuane saw a bit of space open up and took a pot-shot from outside the area but saw it spin up off one of his own players to rather sum up the visitors’ day.

For Cambridge though it was the perfect start to their third straight campaign in League One ahead of turning their attention to the Carabao Cup first round tie at Sutton United on Tuesday (7.45pm).

Cambridge: J Stevens L Bennett, Andrew (Dunk 83’), Digby, Morrison (cpt), R Bennett, Brophy, Thomas (Kachunga 83’), Lankester (Cousins 70’), Janneh (Kaikai 70’), Ahadme (Okenabirhie 83’).

Unused substitutes: Mannion (gk), Okedina.

Booked: Brophy (11’), Janneh (45’), Kachunga 90+5’).

Oxford: Beadle, Long, Brown (F Stevens 81’), Thorniley, Moore (cpt), McEachran (McGuane 61’), Harris O’Donkor (73’), Browne (Bodin 73’), Goodrham (Mills 61’), Rodrigues.

Unused substitutes: Eastwood (gk), Negru.

Booked: Rodrigues (12’)

Attendance: 7,435 (1,469 away fans)

Indy Man of the Match: Saikou Janneh. On only his second league start, the Gambian winger proved too hot for Oxford to handle down their right-hand side. And he certainly played a big part in this victory, ending with an assist for Gassan Ahadme and a well deserved standing ovation when he was withdrawn.

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