A Freddie Sears goal proved to be the big difference as the U's made it three wins in four with a 1-0 triumph over Preston.The match was a real test for the U's - both in standing up to the physical challenge posed by the visitors from Lancashire and in testing their resolve in bouncing back from a 1-0 defeat to Swindon in midweek. Joe Dunne has always believed in his players' character and they dug in and overcame this obstacle to keep themselves moving in the right direction. Backed by a vocal home support, the U's have momentum at the right time in what will be an interesting conclusion to the season.
The U’s named an unchanged side for the visit of North End, as they looked to get back to winning ways.
It was the visitors who had the first sight of goal, as Procter rose highest at a corner and Walker pulled off a superb reflex save to his right to see the ball away from danger.
North End were working the U’s hard in those early stages, closing down quickly in midfield to not give Wright or Clifford any time on the ball.
At the right end, Sears looked like he might cause problems for Stuckmann after the keeper came off his line, but Bailey Wright was in the right place to block.
The U’s pinned in the visitors after that and Okuonghae glanced a header across rather than towards goal from the resultant corner.
The home side went close again on eighteen minutes as superb work by Porter got him into a dangerous area. He tucked it back to Sears, whose fierce shot was batted away by Stuckmann with a good, solid stop.
Then Massey tested the Preston goal as, from a U’s corner, Wilson won a tackle on the edge of the box and the winger smashed a shot that rattled the post, beating Stuckmann but going behind the keeper and away to safety.
The visitors had a chance on the half hour mark as Wroe took a free kick on the edge of the box. Although it took a deflection, Walker was able to react and grab the ball.
As the half entered its final third, the visitors were starting to see more of the ball, but Robertson went into the book seven minutes before half time for hauling down Sears as he went on a marauding run.
Sears started the second half in similarly dangerous fashion. First he stabbed an effort wide with the outside of his foot, before sidefooting another effort wide with his right boot.
But when Ibehre broke the offside trap and lofted his shot over Stuckmann, Sears took the chance to follow the ball in and smashed home.
Wilson got injured in the move for the goal and was replaced by Eastman at right back as the U’s shuffled things around.
Sears was the man of the moment, but watched on as an Eastman slip allowed Holmes to cut back inside and strike a shot against the bar, which was headed over on the follow up.
The visitors made a double change of their own with seventeen to go, with dangerman Monakana and forward Beardsley coming on.
Monakana was straight into the action, crossing for Garner, who set himself but volleyed well over the bar.
At the other end, Porter did great work to beat Buchanan and his low cross just missed the slide of Ibehre in the area.
The game changed again with ten minutes to go as Preston defender Wright saw red. He had been booked for a cynical tug as Sears broke away, then saw yellow again shortly afterwards for a coming together with Ibehre which saw the U’s player also see yellow.
The Preston bench were calling for the U’s man to get booked but, by their expressions on the second decision, hadn’t expected their own man to see yellow too.
The U’s replaced Porter with Jack Compton for the last five minutes, but it was Preston finishing the game the stronger as they bombarded the U’s area.
Sears was again cynically checked by Huntington, who went into the book as five minutes of additional time was added.
Bean came on for Clifford at the start of that time and, again helped by a gargantuan effort by man mountain Ibehre, the U's saw the game out for a massive three points.