FOURTH QUALIFYING ROUND
Needham Market 0
Cambridge United 1
Needham Market manager Mark Morsley is confident his side’s memorable FA Cup run will not be the Marketmen’s final swansong this season.
In a thoroughly entertaining tie, substitute Adam Cunnington struck with 10 minutes remaining to break the hosts’ hearts in what was an incredible afternoon for the Suffolk club.
In front of a record crowd of 1,784, Needham more than matched their more illustrious opponents and Sam Nunn could even have forced a replay when he stabbed wide in stoppage time.
After hailing the effort of his side’s performance against the Skrill Conference Premier Division leaders, to match the momentous occasion, the proud manager is confident there will ultimately be more highs to enjoy in an already memorable campaign.
“They brought on their two best players because they were in trouble and that ultimately changed the game,” he said. “They know we gave them a good game and Richard Money is lucky he had that sort of quality on the bench.
“There was nothing in it in the first half, but the game opened up a lot more, as you would expect, after the break.
“But we passed the ball so well and if a neutral wanted to know who the passing side was then they would have picked us.
“Fair play to them though, they had strength on the bench as the Conference side and that made the difference.
“However, I’ve got to give my team so much credit because I’m proud of every single one of them.
“We’ve done ourselves proud. We would have loved to have got the draw and gone back there, but in many ways this wasn’t a bad result for us.
“Our priority is to get promoted, we’ve had a great adventure in the cup and now we move on.
“The momentum from this will be huge and there is certainly a lot to look forward to this season.”
Needham started the game well with Jamie Guy and Sam Newson testing Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Maxwell inside the opening 10 minutes.
On-loan Colchester United winger Ryan Melaugh also went on a mazy run that threatened to end as a classic FA Cup goal, but Tom Bonner got across to halt his progress.
Despite having plenty of the ball, it took 13 minutes for the visiting U’s to have a shot at James Shea’s goal, but Kwesi Appiah’s stunning drive rattled the underside of the crossbar.
Ian Westlake was dictating play from central midfield and Melaugh’s dribbling continued to cause the away side problems, but the Marketmen — from three leagues below their professional opponents — could not quite force the ball home from a goalmouth scramble.
At the other end, Appiah looked the most likely to break through and dragged a shot wide on the half-turn after sneaking in behind the home side’s defence again.
Needham suffered a blow when Newson went off on crutches on the stroke of half-time and Cambridge almost grabbed the opening goal when Ryan Donaldson’s 25-yard free-kick was pushed over by Shea.
The U’s ended the half in the ascendancy, with Shea also called upon to palm away Josh Coulson’s header, but the interval came with the game all square.
There was a more measured feel to the game on its resumption, but the opportunities began to fall the way of the visitors.
Luke Berry jinked his way into the Needham box, but shot straight at Shea before Ollie Brown made an excellent intervention to deflect Appiah’s shot behind for a corner.
Cunnington found the hands of Shea again and Harrison Dunk headed wide from Liam Hughes’ cross with Shea scrambling to get across.
The Needham goalkeeper then made an incredible save in the 67th minute to somehow tip Cunnington’s powerful header from point-blank range on to the crossbar and Appiah could only put the follow-up wide.
Dunk stung the hands of Shea as Cambridge continued to press forward and Nunn and a bloodied Lee Townrow — wrapped up like Terry Butcher — put their bodies on the line to keep the U’s out.
Appiah was denied by the outstretched boot of Shea, but United finally broke through when substitute Mitch Austin delivered a cross from the left on to the head of fellow replacement Cunnington at the far post and the big number nine planted his downward header into the net from close range.
There was still life in Needham though and Westlake worked himself some space on the edge of the penalty area and stung the hands of Maxwell, but United were dangerous on the counter-attack and it took two more fabulous saves from Shea to keep out Appiah and Hughes.
With four minutes of injury coming to an end, there was nearly a sting in the tail for Cambridge as Nunn, pushed up front as a makeshift striker, poked narrowly wide after Luke Ingram’s powerful low cross was blocked by Maxwell, handing victory and progression to the U’s through to the first round proper.