United made it into the hat for the second round of the FA Cup as two goals from James Roberts on his full debut helped them to a 3-1 win at Grimsby Town this afternoon. The young striker scored two first-half goals before a Danny Rose strike helped the U's through despite a late consolation for the Mariners.
There were changes to the side beaten in their last two league games: Danny Rose switched to a central role, with Alfie Potter and Callum O’Dowda providing the width in a 4-4-2 shape, with Brian Howard playing just behind Roberts. United started confidently with Roberts chasing everything and plenty of composure on the ball, although they were thankful that the right-hand post came to their rescue on 12 minutes when Lenell John-Lewis crashed in a shot from the edge of the box. Had that early effort gone in then who knows how the afternoon might have played out. That scare apart, the U’s looked solid at the back with Johnny Mullins finding time to saunter through two tackles and fire in a shot that home keeper James McKeown saved well. The keeper then rescued Jack Mackreth when his back pass was short and Potter tried to round him, before Howard tried an audacious curling free kick on 27 that dipped at the last moment and forced McKeown to tip it over the bar.
However, a goal was coming and it wasn't long before Roberts had his moment. He was second best as he chased the ball but got there first and span in from the left-hand channel. Defenders backed away and let him run left to right. Big mistake. Roberts, in space, is a very dangerous player, as a lot of defences are going to find out over the next few years. A swift look up, a short backlift and the ball was powered past the keeper and into the right corner of the net for a first senior goal that he will never forget.
Four minutes before the break and the Aylesbury-based forward’s career was truly up and running. Potter sent a ball behind the defence for O’Dowda who roared in at goal and smashed in a shot that McKeown palmed to his left. Roberts had followed in and from a tight angle joyously planted the ball into the net for his second of the afternoon.
The danger had to be if Grimsby came out revived in the second half and went for broke but it took just five minutes for the U’s to burst that bubble and all but place their name in the hat for the second round. The impressive Joe Riley crossed from the right after a typical Andy Whing challenge got the U’s moving. Howard made a nuisance of himself and the ball found the excellent Rose who fired home to make it 3-0 and seemingly game over.
Grimsby had only one option now and came at the U's. There were two loud penalty appeals, several off-target shots, and big gaps at the other end for United to exploit. The Mariners got the goal their efforts deserved on 80 minutes when Pittman headed across goal, it was flicked on and Ross Hanna looked as though he got the final touch to make it 3-1. It's the FA Cup, were you expecting a dull finale?
A good win against a Grimsby side who will be major contenders for a Football League return this season. United meanwhile will watch Monday evening's second round draw safe in the knowledge that this was a job well done.
Report by Chris Williams