TRAVEL-SICK York City threw up an unwelcome reminder of past defensive frailties during an unwelcome 3-1 defeat at Cambridge.
The Minstermen have only taken four points from a possible 33 since their last league victory on the road – September’s 3-0 success at Newport.
At Bootham Crescent, meanwhile, four of the last five matches have been won with determined defensive displays proving the platform for such successes.
Goals were gifted, though, to home trio Jimmy Spencer, Josh Coulson and Ben Williamson at the Abbey Stadium.
U’s skipper Luke Berry also squandered a 77nd-minute chance to add a fourth when his chipped penalty proved more pathetic than “Panenka”.
Despite being subsequently hauled off by unimpressed home boss Shaun Derry, though, Berry’s profligacy never looked like being costly and James Berrett’s first-half blockbuster was the visitors’ only response on an otherwise uninspiring afternoon.
Any disappointment must, of course, be placed in context, coming at the end of an eight-day period in which the club had climbed off the bottom of the Football League and out of the relegation zone with back-to-back Bootham Crescent triumphs.
But the club’s away results are a little cause for alarm and, whilst one poor performance might be excusable, few more can be afforded in the battle to preserve Football League survival with the Minstermen’s last short-lived mini-revival, when four points out of six were taken either side of Christmas, still fresh in the mind.
Gary Roberts’ 84th-minute equaliser at Yeovil for Portsmouth prevented City from slipping back into the bottom two, but City chief Jackie McNamara knows his players must take control of their own destiny, rather than seeking favours elsewhere.
It was the visitors who were in a giving mood at the Abbey Stadium with Scott Flinders enduring his most unconvincing 90 minutes in goal for the Minstermen, while Dave Winfield and Femi Ilesanmi fell well below their recent high standards.
Makeshift right-back Lubo Satka also looked unsettled and Kyle Cameron will now need to shake off the first signs of indecision he has displayed since arriving on loan from Newcastle last month.
There was no suggestion of what was to follow when Michael Coulson rattled the crossbar from 35 yards from Berrett’s shortly-taken free kick on seven minutes.
Coulson went on to lift an edge-of-the-box effort out of the ground as City promised to carry the momentum of their last two games into this encounter.
But it was the home side who forged in front after their first attack of the game on ten minutes.
City looked vulnerable on their right side all afternoon and, when Berrett, who started in a wide-midfield role, failed to block left-back Ryan Haynes’ cross from the by-line, Flinders misjudged the flight of the ball and Spencer headed in from three yards at the far post.
The Minstermen had an excellent chance to hit back immediately but, after Ilesanmi had showed great anticipation to intercept a home pass and teed up Bradley Fewster following a left-wing charge, the on-loan Middlesbrough striker directed his 12-yard shot straight at home keeper Will Norris.
Instead, after Williamson had somehow stabbed wide from three yards when Harrison Dunk had got in behind Satka through the left channel, Cambridge extended their lead.
Dunk’s corner picked out Coulson’s untracked run and Flinders could only help his scruffy, sidefooted, seven-yard volley into the roof of the net.
The Minstermen were back in the contest, though, on 33 minutes when Kenny McEvoy charged down left-back Haynes’ clearance and, from an inside-right position, Berrett’s 25-yard drive dipped over the head of Norris.
It was a setback the home side took in their stride, however, with City failing to build on their spectacular route back into the game.
Before the interval, Berry and Ryan Ledson both lifted 20-yard shots too high and the latter also saw a header tipped over by Flinders.
Williamson and Spencer had further chances early in the second half and Flinders saved low to his right from Dunk before the U’s added a deserved third goal on the hour mark.
City pair Ilesanmi and Cameron were caught dozing on the counter attack and, when Flinders failed to hold on to Spencer’s low drive, Williamson pounced from a couple of yards.
Flinders went on to gather Spencer’s 25-yard strike at the second attempt before the game witnessed more calamitous away defending.
After trickery by Berry caused anxiety in the City box, Winfield clumsily clambered on fellow centre-back Leon Legge and referee Nicolas Kinseley pointed to the spot.
But the red-faced Cambridge captain left the field moments later after he lifted his woeful spot kick over.
He would not be punished further, however, with the only City response seeing substitute Jake Hyde’s goalbound shot blocked following an untidy scramble.
Scott Flinders: 5 – endured a shaky time and chiefly culpable for two of the goals
Lubo Satka: 5 – given real problems early on and slow to react to threat down his side
Dave Winfield: 5 – not the commanding presence of recent months and clumsy for penalty
Kyle Cameron: 5 – suffered some uncertain moments and roughed up a little
Femi Ilesanmi: 5 – started well but failed to take charge for Cambridge’s third goal
Russell Penn: 5 – looked outmanned in midfield by three-strong Cambridge engine room
Luke Summerfield: 5 – showed moments of first-half quality before influence waned
STAR MAN James Berrett: 6 – deserves credit for excellent goal but struggled in first-half wide role
Kenny McEvoy 6 – pressured Haynes into mistake to help team reduce the deficit
Bradley Fewster: 5 – couldn’t make inroads against strong home back-line
Michael Coulson: 6 – lively and threatening during opening exchanges before fading later
Substitutes: Jake Hyde 5 – shackled (for McEvoy, 62), Reece Thompson (for Bradley Fewster, 77), Josh Carson (for Penn, 79).
Subs not used: Michael Ingham, Derek Riordan, Matty Dixon, George Swan.
Will Norris, Darnell Furlong, Josh Coulson, Leon Legge, Ryan Haynes, Luke Berry (Ryan Donaldson, 80), James Dunne, Ryan Ledson, Harrison Dunk, Jimmy Spencer (Robbie Simpson, 88), Ben Williamson.
Subs not used: Sam Beasant, Elliot Omozusi, Mark Roberts, Shane O’Neill, Ryan Horne.
Cambridge star man: Leon Legge – tower of strength at back
Referee: Nicholas Kinseley rating: 7/10 – generally sensible with decisions
Booked: Satka 68
Attendance: 4,822 (424 from City)
Shots on target: Cambridge 8, City 4
Shots off target: Cambridge 7, City 1
Corners: Cambridge 8, City 3
Fouls conceded: Cambridge 8, City 10
Offsides: Cambridge 5, City 2