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AFC Halifax v Cambridge United Supporters, 18 August 2012

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Cambridge United Supporters 6 AFC Halifax 5.

The city of Cambridge may be famed for its university, but even our educated boffins might be hard put to explain this result, one that defies all logic and reasoning. How a team can have over twenty goalscoring opportunities yet be the losers by the odd goal in eleven.

There were, of course, mitigating circumstances. AFC Halifax travelled with only ten players - all having risen from cosy beds at 5.15 - borrowing an eleventh from the hosts, and having an unfamiliar look about it, particularly in the back four, of which Adam Ramsden was the only regular. Johnny Meynell and Terry ‘Tom Chadwick’ Sunderland, making an unexpected start four years after his last, stumped up the average age, though Sam Barnes’ appearance at right back brought it down a tad. One would like to think that with a full squad, AFC would have comfortably seen this game out without any worries; as things were, the side suffered their second successive defeat, though whereas Shrewsbury proved to be a useful outfit seven days earlier, here, Cambridge were nothing more than slightly mediocre.

Still, they found it within themselves to earn their first corner within thirty seconds (despite not kicking off) and running up a three-goal lead after only twenty minutes, though each goal scored (and the ones that followed) came with an AFC complimentary slip. For the visitors were clearly the better footballing side and looked odds on to open the scoring, but with a defence riding such a high line, it was an open invitation, and Cambridge exploited it. They raided down the right, cantered to the by-line, pulled the ball back to supporting attackers (which had spotted an opportunity worth taking long before the AFC midfield realised) and dispatched with aplomb from ten yards out. And no sooner had the game restarted than Cambridge were at it again, a ball into an open field beyond the back four and a shot that had keeper Nigel Walker beaten, and whilst the ball cannoned off the bar, Cambridge were more alert to the rebound and consequently doubled their lead.

In and among AFC played some pretty and attractive football, with Ben Fawkes using the ball so intelligently down the right that he was on the verge of an honorary degree, and Martin Probets running the midfield like a puppeteer. Toby Higgins also used the ball effectively, while up front, Adam Probets was a constant menace, though far too often his shooting was high, wide and mighty, and sometimes not even that close. When the next goal went in it was Cambridge that scored it.

It was a pretty simple technique, a corner headed in by the frizzy haired loanee from The Wonderland Zoo, though the ball should not have cleared the head of Sam Barnes at the front post (6ft 3in in his stocking feet, 7ft with a leap, had he made one), nor the punch that Big Nige perhaps could have given the ball (it came in the manner of Shilton v Maradona), but nevertheless the Mika-lookalike glanced the ball in off his head. 3-0 to the hosts.

This goal evoked a reaction and a fightback was on the cards once Adam Probets had powerfully headed home Fawkes’ corner, and when namesake Martin lashed the ball in at the second attempt following another flag kick, AFC were right back in the game, and looking to unravel Cambridge in the second half. A fourth goal for the U’s on the stroke of half-time, then, was a bit of a body blow. It came from a rare attack moments after Wright had put wide at the other end, but the shot that beat Big Nige was neither hard or true, just low and angled, but when viewed in both slow motion and in 3-D, revealed amazingly no awkward bobble, yet somehow the ball went over the keeper’s outstretched arm. Half-time; AFC 4-2 down.

In light of the resulting scoreline, the academics among you will have worked out that AFC in actual fact won the second half, but how they failed to hit double figures is a mystery. Chance after chance went begging, but when AFC did manage to reduce the deficit to one, the goal came from an unexpected source; centre-back Ramsden. He advanced so far into opposition territory, by the time the Cambridge rearguard moved to repel, it was too late. Rambo picked his spot and rifled the ball into the far corner from a good 20-35 yards, depending on who you want to believe.

Joy and expectation was short-lived, surprise, surprise. A Cambridge move down the left flank saw the ball flashed towards goal, and though it was palmed away by Big Nige, it was picked up at the far post and transferred inside and finished in a manner evoking memories of Puskas v England in 1953, a lethal finish (minus close control and drag back) into the top corner at the near post, the ball whistling past Nige’s ear and threatening tinnitus.

But AFC had more in the locker to keep the game interesting. Probets evaded would-be tacklers and planted the ball beyond the keeper for a tidy finish and suddenly the game was now at 4-5. Surely AFC had the upper hand, ready to finish ‘em off.

Perhaps, but their cause was not helped by a rush of blood to the head of Toby Higgins who spoiled an otherwise competent display by playing the ball across the 18-yard line straight to a Cambridge striker – the term gift-wrapped comes to mind – and the outcome was a straightforward finish into the corner. AFC were two goals behind despite being the better side and time was running out.

Still, there was hope when Probets poked home following Fawkes’ cross from the left – a hat-trick – but AFC failed to salvage the game. Probets had another effort ruled out for offside, whilst Cambridge had the chance for a seventh in extra-ordinary fashion when their hot-legged striker and keeper Nige found themselves the only players in the AFC half following a breakaway from a corner. Inexplicably he shot wide, giving one last hope for AFC, but Fawkes squeezed the ball inches wide and the final whistle signalled an unwarranted victory for Cambridge and a headmaster’s report which may have read, ‘Far too slovenly, careless in many areas. Must do better – especially in front of goal.’

Team; Walker; Barnes, Ramsden, Meynell, Sunderland; Fawkes, M Probets, Higgins, White (guest); A Probets, Wright. Sub; SO Else (guest).

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