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Cambridge United beaten by second-half comeback from Bolton Wanderers during Sky Bet League One encounter at the Abbey Stadium

Cambridge United were beaten 2-1 by play-off hunting Bolton Wanderers during this evening’s Sky Bet League One encounter at the Cledara Abbey Stadium.

A spirited United took a one-goal lead with them into the break of this rearranged encounter after the abandonment of a fortnight ago, but Bolton’s quality shone through during a second half in which tempers boiled over as the home side ended the contest with 10 players.

The visitors fired an early warning sign in the fifth minute when Jon Dadi Bodvarsson ran off the back of Ryan Bennett and drove a low shot at Jack Stevens, who sprung to his feet in time to also thwart Carlos Mendes Gomes on the rebound.

Cambridge United's Macauley Bonne in action against Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 2024. Picture: Ben Phillips
Cambridge United's Macauley Bonne in action against Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 2024. Picture: Ben Phillips

At that point it felt like it could be a long half for the U’s, but it is a credit to them that those were the only two stops of note that Stevens was required to make before the break.

The combination of organisational discipline and work-rate was a key fixture throughout for United – and both of those facets led to the deadlock-breaking goal with eight minutes on the clock.

Bolton are well known for being one of the best sides in the division for building out from the back, but on this occasion they were caught out by Sullay Kaikai, who after winning back possession deep in the away side’s territory drove into the box and then saw his cross/shot loop into the net via a big deflection off Wanderers defender Eoin Toal.

Cambridge United celebrate their opening goal against Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 2024. Picture: Simon Lankester
Cambridge United celebrate their opening goal against Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 2024. Picture: Simon Lankester

Fresh from scoring and getting an assist at the weekend against Carlisle United, Kaikai was spearheading the charge for United. It was his shot that forced Wanderers goalkeeper Joel Coleman into action in the 14th minute and then he was fouled just outside the box by Josh Sheehan. Danny Andrew’s resultant free kick kept low and looked dangerous, but Coleman did well to hold on.

As expected, Bolton dominated the ball, yet for all of their possession they were unable to unlock a stubborn United rearguard – much to the frustration of their manager Ian Evatt, who on more than one occasion was left to bemoan a final decision lacking the necessary quality.

Yet if his side’s start to the second half was anything to go by, he certainly voiced his displeasure during the break and the message was received loud and clear.

The opening exchanges of the second half were played largely in and around the United penalty box. Nathanael Ogbeta sent one low cross flashing across the face of Stevens’ goal and then saw his curling effort from just inside the area deflect a yard wide of the target.

From the resultant corner U’s striker Macauley Bonne was forced to clear off the line to deny Josh Sheehan before the pressure eventually told in the 52nd minute. The influential Ogbeta swung in a corner from the right and the ball squirmed beyond Stevens through a crowded box with Paris Maghoma claiming the final touch.

The equaliser gave Wanderers the bit between their teeth and they went on to take the lead with 63 minutes played. Playmaker Sheehan sent a delicate chipped pass into the box for an advancing Mendes Gomes, who showed good technique to cleanly strike a ball that dropped over his shoulder past a helpless Stevens.

Mendes Gomes skipped into the United box again six minutes later, but under pressure from Liam Bennett, the 25-year-old rolled his low shot wide.

United boss Neil Harris rang the changes soon after with the introduction of Lyle Taylor, George Thomas and Jack Lankester off the bench. And it was the latter of that trio that spurned a good opportunity to draw the hosts level seven minutes from time as he steered his shot from the edge of the box wide after James Brophy’s initial weak effort was blocked.

And it was another of the substitutes – Taylor – that was involved in the next piece of drama in the 90th minute when he was red carded for an off-the-ball incident with former United defender Jack Iredale. The forward, who has been impressive since his arrival last month, will now miss Saturday’s derby against Peterborough United and with him also went United’s hopes of salvaging a late equaliser.

Cambridge United: Stevens, L Bennett (Gibbons 83’), R Bennett, Morrison, Andrew, Digby (Thomas 71’), Cousins, Brophy, Kaikai (Lankester 71’), Kachunga (Taylor 71’), Bonne

Bolton Wanderers: Coleman, Dacres-Cogley, Jones, Taylor (Iredale 41’), Toal, Ogbeta, Sheehan, Maghoma (Morley 73’), Dempsey, Mendes Gomes (Collins 78’), Bodvarsson (Adeboyejo 78’)

Attendance: 6,525 (903 Bolton)

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