Ilkeston FC progressed into the second round of the FA Trophy with a slender win over Cambridge City on Halloween afternoon.
The victory was new head coach Andy Watson’s fourth on the bounce to maintain his 100 per cent record, the Robins now eight games unbeaten in all competitions.
On a mild afternoon in Cambridgeshire, both teams tried to find their feet in a fiery opening set of minutes. With the pitch being slightly bobbly, this also created a few problems with the Robins trying to settle into their possession rhythm.
Ilkeston once again operated a midfield triangle with Eli Bako, Charlie Coulson and Joe Doyle marshalling the space and also creating chances for Dan Udoh and Dexter Atkinson up top.
The Robins started well, Udoh showed sublime control and managed to release Atkinson who beat the offside trap but Zac Barrett raced out of his goal to intercept.
Cambridge mustered their first clear chance after 16 minutes as Josh Dawkin fired inches wide of the far bottom corner from the edge of the box, with the ball taking a slight nick off Joe Burgess on its way through. Ilkeston cleared the resulting corner.
Charlie Coulson showed incredible composure and quick feet throughout the first half and he produced a mesmerising run into the box from the half-way line and forced a good stop from Barrett who tipped his effort round the post.
Ilkeston continued to put pressure on the hosts, dominating possession and switching the play in order to stretch Cambridge. Bako’s ball into the near post nearly found Atkinson but the ball was cleared.
The hosts nearly took the lead against the run of play just after the half hour mark. Danny Kelly dinked the ball past Evandro Rachoni in the box but Matt Baker was on hand to block the shot at the near post.
However, just before half-time, Ilkeston took the lead. Udoh was brought down on the edge of the box and Coulson stepped up and curled a delicious free-kick into the bottom corner.
The second-half saw a much improved Cambridge side and the hosts nearly found an equaliser as Jon Kaye fired over the bar from the edge of the box.
City continued to press, Michael Malcolm having a golden chance to draw the teams level after Kelly put him through but he blazed over the bar with Rachoni on-rushing.
Kelly again put Malcolm into space for Cambridge inside the box but Rachoni this time saved with his legs.
The Robins were reduced to playing on the counter attack for the second portion of the second half. Doyle played in Atkinson wide right, the quick striker breezed past his man before firing straight at Barrett inside the box.
Watson introduced returns for Lee Ndlovu and Mike Williams with a quarter of the game remaining. This added solidity in midfield and also an increased attacking potency on the break for the Robins.
Cambridge persisted with their chances as the ball fell for Dawkin who lashed his effort wide of the near post inside the box.
Ilkeston nearly wrapped the game up when Coulson’s ball into Burgess saw a bullet header for the skipper but Barrett produced a stunning save at point-blank range, palming over the bar.
Despite the frequent chances for City, it was the Robins who progressed into Monday’s draw for the second qualifying round.
Cambridge: Zac Barrett, Tom Pepper, Charlie Day, Duran Reynolds (Adam Murray 45), Dan Gleeson, Buster Harradine(c), Ieuan Lewis, Jon Kaye (Alex Serrano 88), Michael Malcolm, Danny Kelly, Josh Dawkin (Joel Norris 76).
Subs Not Used: Tommy Horton, Neil Midgley.
Ilkeston: Evandro Rachoni, Marcus Harness, Rhys Dolan (Aiden Print 70), Joe Burgess (c), Matt Baker, Ollie Luto, Joe Doyle, Eli Bako (Mike Williams 76), Dan Udoh, Charlie Coulson, Dexter Atkinson (Lee Ndlovu 73).
Subs Not Used: Jordan Wheatley, Jacquil Hill(GK).