U’s look to repeat Trophy exploits of 22 years ago, starting at Cambridge

U's boss, John McGreal, hoping to mastermind Exeter City's downfall. Picture: STEVE WALLER

U's boss, John McGreal, hoping to mastermind Exeter City's downfall. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

It will be winner-takes-all at Cambridge United, in this evening’s East Anglian derby, and Colchester United do not have to look far to seek inspiration.

The one and only time that the Essex club reached the final of the EFL Trophy, currently named the Checkatrade Trophy, was when the competition was known as the Auto Windscreen Shield and Steve Wignall was on the U’s hot seat.

That was back in the 1996-97 season, when Wignall’s men went all the way to Wembley for the final, where they lost a penalty shoot-out to Carlisle United after a goalless draw.

There could well be a penalty shoot-out to decide tonight’s clash, at the Abbey Stadium, and ironically the U’s glorious Trophy run of 22 years ago all kicked-off with a midweek win away at neighbours Cambridge.

Steve Whitton swept home a late winner to seal a 1-0 win at the Abbey, in the days when all the early rounds were just knock-out – there were no group stages.

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The U’s went on to record impressive away wins at Millwall (3-2 after extra-time) and Brentford (1-0), and then defeat Northampton (2-1 at home), before overturning a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at London Road to beat Barry Fry’s Peterborough United 3-0 at Layer Road and so win 3-2 on aggregate in the southern area final, to secure a Wemebley appearance.

Back to the current-day, and the four-strong Group B of the EFL Trophy has all four teams locked together on three points, with one win and one defeat apiece for Colchester, Cambridge, Southend and Southampton Under-21s.

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If tonight’s fixtures end in draws, after the 90 minutes, then a penalty shoot-out will decide the outcome, with the winners securing an extra point and so progression into the knock-out phase.

That’s why it’s winner-takes-all, in both games – the U’s lost 2-0 at home to Sounthampton Under-21s, before beating Southend 2-0.

The U’s were unlucky to be knocked out of the FA Cup, via a 1-0 defeat at League One high-fliers Accrington Stanley on Saturday.

John McGreal’s men also exited the League Cup at the first round, suffering a penalty shoot-out defeat at Cheltenham after a 2-2 draw, so they would like to avoid a hat-trick of cup disappointments tonight, even though promotion remains the main priority.

“It’s Cambridge away, and it’s winner-takes-all, so it’s a brilliant chance for us,” explained boss McGreal. “It’s a good game for us to look forward to.”

Unfortunately, the U’s picked up two injuries at Accrington, with defender Tom Eastman (head) and keeper Rene Gilmartin (hamstring) both substituted inside the first half-hour, to add to Luke Norris’ swollen ankle suffered the previous weekend, in the 1-0 league win over Swindon.

All three will be out tonight. Norris needs a couple of weeks for his ankle to settle down, before it can be assessed properly, so the striker will not feature at Newport in the league this Saturday. Gilmartin would also be unlikely to recover in time for the trip to South Wales.

“I decided to rotate it a little, by putting Luke (Prosser on the bench) to try and give Tom (Eastman) a game, but it didn’t work out!” said McGreal.

“And I don’t know how Rene did his hamstring, so that has to be assessed.”

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