Mansfield Town bowed out of the FA Cup as Cambridge United won 1-0 at One Call Stadium courtesy of a deflected early goal by teenager Sullay Kaikai.
In a thrilling contest, the Stags created numerous opportunities as they laid siege of Cambridge’s goal, but the visitors held on to book a third round tie with Luton Town.
The Stags began the game at a blistering pace and Ollie Palmer almost broke clean through on goal within the first 10 seconds, when he dispossessed a U’s player straight from kick-off and weaved his way goalwards – eventually being foiled right on the edge of the area.
Just 25 seconds later, Vadaine Oliver went within a whisker of an opener when he got on the end of Rakish Bingham’s perfectly floated back-post cross from the right flank, but his header was straight at Chris Dunn.
Cambridge began to settle after their shaky start and there was a worrying moment for Mansfield on five minutes, when Sascha Studer totally mis-judged a backwards header by Ryan Tafazolli, which allowed Luke Chadwick to nip in. However, the veteran midfielder was forced wide and his high ball across goal was headed behind at the expense of a corner.
The U’s played on the front foot for the next few minutes which seemed to unsettle Mansfield and although no danger was caused from another flag-kick a few moments later, Richard Money’s side soon opened the scoring.
Cambridge’s two on loan players from Crystal Palace, Kwesi Appiah and Sullay Kaikai were directly involved – Appiah heading down a chipped cross b Chadwick towards the edge of the area, towards his younger team-mate whose scruffy low shot took a wicked deflection off Luke Waterfall and crept past a wrong-footed Studer and into the net.
The Stags almost immediately got back on level terms, but Oliver spurned a glorious opening to equalise – heading wide from six yards after some fine strength and work in the air by Palmer.
Mansfield continued to create some good openings, with Rob Taylor looking lively, and the ex-Port Vale was at the heart of a great move on 18 minutes, when he squared a ball through to Rakish Bingham, who unleashed a low drive straight at Dunn.
At the other end, Tafazolli soon required treatment for a head injury and had to sport a yellow head bandage for the rest of the game, but the Stags’ skipper provided a vital block on 22 minutes, when he bravely diverted a close-range effort by Appiah away from goal when the hosts’ backline was stretched.
Adam Murray’s Stags had the next chance – a golden one too – as Taylor floated a great ball towards the far edge of the six-yard box from the left flank towards an unmarked Bingham, who took a touch but was foiled just as he was about to pull the trigger by ex-Stags loanee Greg Taylor.
From the resulting corner, Chris Clements floated a great ball towards the near-post, but Cambridge ‘keeper Dunn towered above everyone else as he plucked the ball out of the air.
Mansfield, looking to avoid a repeat of last season’s elimination in a second round replay, had a couple of further opportunities before the half-hour mark as they stepped up their pressure.
Oliver could have done much better when he scuffed a shot wide from 30 yards with options available either side of him, before Taylor latched onto a floated ball down the line by Clements, but he couldn’t test the ‘keeper with a left-foot effort.
The Stags were then thwarted courtesy of a brave block by Ian Miller, who on his second appearance since returning from a serious achilles injury, produced a brave block to divert wide a shot by Palmer, who had latched onto a beautifully weighted pass by Clements.
Two more Mansfield corners came to pass without incident, before Cambridge enjoyed a few minutes where they dominated territorially.
On 39 minutes, the U’s squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to open up a two-goal lead.
Simon Heslop had his pocket picked by livewire Appiah around 30 yards out and the Cambridge striker accelerated forward – with options available to him left and right.
The Stags’ defence were completely stretched and after a clever passing exchange deep inside the final third, Matty Blair eventually unleashed a powerful low shot which was superbly blocked by Studer.
It was a huge let off for Murray’s men, who sought to take full advantage of it as they surged straight down towards the North Stand and created some chances of their own.
Taylor again delivered a great ball towards the area, which caught a glancing header off Palmer and almost found Oliver, who swung at the ball and went down in hope rather than expectation, but no penalty was given.
Cambridge then had a couple of corner, both of which came to nothing, before the Stags almost equalised in the only minute of injury-time at the end of the half, when Oliver’s lay-off found Clements, whose strike with unadulterated venom caught a slight deflection and went a whisker wide of the left-hand post.
The first half had been an absorbing contest and the second was equally as entertaining as both teams played some good football and continued to create openings.
Mansfield had the first chance of the second period when Taylor showed some good work on the left flank and delivered a pin-point cross into the area towards Palmer, but the ex-Havant & Waterlooville had his back to goal and was unable to get enough purchase on his header to trouble the visiting custodian.
The Stags had a good five-minute spell of pressure, during which Cambridge did nothing but defend, but against the balance of play, the visitors almost went 2-0 up on 53 minutes.
Blair somehow managed to keep the ball in play, tight to the by-line, and slipped a low ball across to Appiah, who bamboozled his way into the six-yard box, turned and then hit a scruffy effort, which was diverted wide by Studer at his near-post.
Clements cleared the ball off the line after it was headed goalwards from the resulting corner, but it wasn’t long until the Stags were back on the attack – as the aforementioned playmaker saw a corner parried away by a nervous-looking Dunn at his near-post.
Both teams also made their first changes within a matter of moments of each other prior to the hour mark – Reggie Lambe replacing Palmer for Mansfield, whilst Bird came on for Blair for Cambridge.
It was the visitors’ substitute who almost scored first out of the two new arrivals as he unleashed a swerving 20-yard drive on the hour mark, which Studer did well to palm away to safety.
On 67 minutes, Bermudan winger Lambe came within millimetres of levelling for the Stags when his exquisite turn-and-shot from about 15 yards out went agonisingly wide of Dunn’s left-hand post.
Less than two minutes later, Murray’s men again nearly drew level through the most unlikely of sources as Waterfall had the goal at his mercy following Clements’ set-piece delivery, but the on loan defender connected with the ball with his foot and his effort drifted wide.
Matt Rhead was soon thrust into the action in favour of Oliver and the burly forward let fly with a speculative strike with about a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, but it easily cleared the upright.
At this point, the Stags were continuously pounding the Cambridge area with crosses, balls into the box and intense pressure, as they threw everything at finding an equaliser.
Waterfall went close again with a downwards header from another flag-kick by Clements, as the visitors continued to soak up pressure and cling on for their lives.
There was then a big moment for Dan Fletcher as the youth team striker was given his senior debut, replacing Lee Beevers with about 10 minutes remaining.
Within seconds of his introduction, Fletcher almost made himself a hero as the ball dropped to him on the edge of the six-yard box, but as he pulled the trigger a U’s defender made a vital interception and it went out for a corner.
Bingham had a shot diverted wide as Mansfield continued to lay siege on the Cambridge goal, before two corners in quick succession came to nothing.
As the minutes ticked down, the visitors defended deeper and deeper, so much so that they virtually spent the entire last few minutes inside their own six-yard box.
On 86 minutes, Rhead headed over from a long right-wing cross by Sutton as the Stags remained frustrated in their efforts for an equaliser.
However, in the last minute of normal-time, Murray’s team thought they had got a reward for their sterling second half efforts, when Waterfall hooked the ball over a flapping ‘keeper after a beautifully floated corner by Clements.
As One Call Stadium erupted with joy and the players wheeled away to celebrate, the linesman on the Ian Greaves Stand side raised his flag and the goal was chalked off – causing furious protests from fans and players alike.
In pouring rain, Cambridge managed to soak up yet more pressure during four nail-biting minutes of injury-time and somehow defended to book their place in round three.
It was a fortuitous result for Stags and had Waterfall’s effort counted, it could have been a totally different outcome.
Attendance: 1,920 (305 away supporters).