A day after VAR made its inconspicuous British bow at Wembley Accrington Stanley felt it could have come in handy at Cambridge United. John Coleman, their manager, thought they should have had two penalties. “We’re not into video technology yet,” he said, before acknowledging, “but the referee’s got to make a split decision.”
Coleman’s frustration was understandable. Victory would have put them top of League Two, with Notts County drawing. But in the hard-fought event it was probably as well no split‑second decision at either end separated the sides from goalless equality. In any case a year ago, with Cambridge leading 2-1, Accrington were awarded two added-time penalties and scored neither.
Keeper and both takers have moved on and one of the more intriguing duels, which broke out after half-time here, was between Cambridge’s experienced new keeper, David Forde, of the Republic of Ireland, and the Northern Irish striker Billy Kee, who leads the division’s scorers. Both their minds might legitimately have been elsewhere.
Four games unbeaten had confirmed Cambridge’s mid-table position under Shaun Derry. Coleman knew what to expect. “They are big and strong and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are knocking about at the top end come the end of the season,” he said beforehand.
They were knocking about at the top end here, with their front two, Jabo Ibehre and Uche Ikpeazu, built like rugby locks, proving more of an armful than handful for Accrington’s defence. Ben Richards-Everton and Mark Hughes, with judicious concentration and commitment, held their own and sometimes a bit more to keep them at bay from the 6ft 8in Aaron Chapman in goal. A notice on the adjacent Coldham’s Common says: “Please be aware this site is grazed.” Coleman’s side were content to be bruised but unbeaten. Their target average is two points a game.
If the first half was early closing, the second was late-night shopping, end-to-end play replacing midfield overcrowding. “It was a bit too open for me,” Coleman said, but straight after the restart Jordan Clark could have put Accrington ahead from Sean McGonville’s free-kick, then Kee on the right touchline caught Forde away from his line with a curling shot that came out off the bar and McGonville could not convert. The new scene was set and Jevani Brown, Cambridge’s dynamo, flashed a shot wide at the other end.
When Ibehre failed to beat Chapman from four yards, the whistle for a foul in the six-yard area spared his blushes but, with a different outcome, it could have been another one for the video assistant referee. There was no argument over Forde’s save as Kayden Jackson crossed to Kee steaming and screaming to the near post. Forde was perfectly placed for a helpless block. Jackson has seven goals himself to Kee’s 10 and they share lightning speed and understanding.
Accrington are one of the wonders of the Football League. The town had a club in the original dozen of 1888. Stanley, in Stanley Street, were founded in 1891, entered the League in 1921 and enjoyed their only two years in the third tier in 1958-60 before bankruptcy in 1962 between the first-class retirement of those two immortal north-western Stanleys, Mortensen and Matthews. Reformed in 1968, they worked their way back to the League in 2006, guided by Coleman, who clocked up 587 games from 1999 to 2012 and returned in 2014 via Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers to the club that is clearly in his blood. Saturday’s was his 760th match for them.
He took them to fifth in 2011 and fourth in 2016, yet still last season, when a late spurt took them into play-off running again, they had the League’s lowest average crowds at 1,699, four fewer than Morecambe. They took 173 to Cambridge for an afternoon that from Last Post to last kick showed all that is good and charming about the Football League which nonetheless, in keeping with the game’s expanding greed, is enabling the rich to get richer by playing Championship games on Sunday while Leagues One and Two are in danger of being forgotten.
• League Two produced two reminders on Saturday, as if they were needed, that added time is no time to let up or give up. Swindon, embarrassingly 2-1 down at home to the bottom club, Chesterfield, were awarded a penalty in the 94th minute and Luke Norris, the foulee, converted it in the 96th after a two-minute mill. The centre-half Will Boyle’s for Cheltenham against Luton was also in the 96th minute and was more in the nature of a pushover try to produce the same 2-2 result. Victory would have put Luton on top of the table.
• The same message came from Scunthorpe in League One as they beat Bristol Rovers with the only goal of the game. Both sides, as so often, felt they could have won it and there were plenty of chances at both ends. Neal Bishop found the answer in the 94th minute to enhance The Iron’s place in the play-offs and condemn Rovers to their fourth defeat in five league games. Bradford, a place above Scunthorpe beforehand and given the same opportunity to get among the top three, who were not playing because of international calls, were unable to take advantage at home to Plymouth, whose 1-0 win lifted them off the foot of the table and landed Bury, who drew at Gillingham, in their place.
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