Kevin Nolan made two changes to the team which started Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Newport, replacing both full backs as Matt Tootle and Dan Jones came in at the expense of Nicky Hunt and Carl Dickinson. Shola Ameobi returned to the bench after sitting out the trip to south Wales, while Terry Hawkridge also came back into the matchday squad.
The hosts, buoyant under interim head coach Joe Dunne following the sacking of former Notts manager Shaun Derry earlier in the month, made a strong start with Jevani Brown and Uche Ikpeazu firing wide of the target inside the opening 10 minutes. Liam O’Neil and Ikpeazu were off target later in the half, while Notts threatened when Liam Noble’s hooked effort from the edge of the penalty area landed on the roof of the net. Cambridge thought they had a clear-cut opportunity when Elito’s shot deflected into the path of the unmarked O’Neil, who headed straight at Adam Collin, but the midfielder’s blushes were spared by the offside flag. There was no such luck three minutes later, however, as the Us took the lead in similar circumstances. It was Brown who saw his shot hit a Notts body, sending the ball spinning into the night’s sky and allowing Elito to steal in, round Collin and tap into an unguarded net to open the scoring. Dunne’s men immediately looked to double their advantage with Brad Halliday and Northampton Town loanee Billy Waters both forcing Notts’ goalkeeper into action with low strikes. The ball then sat up nicely for Brown to smash goalwards in the final stages of the opening period but Collin was equal to the shot. Elito, in search of a brace, fizzed an effort wide from 25 yards to close out the half as the hosts took a slender advantage into the break.
Nolan sent Shola Ameobi on for Noor Husin at half-time, a move which saw Noble slot in alongside Hewitt in central midfield. And, after O’Neil sent a diving header wide for the hosts, Ameobi nearly made a quick impact by knocking Hewitt’s pass towards Stead only for Elito to steal in and clear the danger. Grant entered the book for dissent as frustration began to grow for Notts and, moments after Greg Taylor had headed Brown’s cross wide, Grant was replaced down the left by Jonathan Forte. The substitute could have had an assist to his name moments after his introduction when he did well to nod the ball down for Ameobi in the area. The forward saw his shot blocked, however. Time was ticking away from the Magpies and, in the final minute of normal time, Ameobi saw another shot blocked in the area. Notts were given three minutes of added time to find an equaliser, the first of which saw Ikpeazu’s powerful effort pushed over the bar by Collin. Matty Virtue was sent on in place of Lewis Alessandra in Nolan’s final move but the Liverpool loanee was unable to rescue the match for the Magpies as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat.
Cambridge United: Forde, Halliday, Taylor, Taft, Dunk, Deegan, O’Neill, Waters (Amoo 69), Brown, Elito (Carroll 65), Ikpeazu.
Notts County: Collin, Tootle, Duffy, Hall, Jones, Noble, Husin (Ameobi 45), Hewitt, Grant (Forte 80), Stead, Alessandra (Virtue 91).