Tudor restoration brings a timely lift

Cambridge United 2 - Oxford United 1
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The Independent Football

Two wins in five days and Cambridge are believing again. After an extraordinary finish to this tale of two Varsities, they are off the bottom of League Two, and suddenly relegation and possible extinction no longer seem a foregone conclusion.

Two wins in five days and Cambridge are believing again. After an extraordinary finish to this tale of two Varsities, they are off the bottom of League Two, and suddenly relegation and possible extinction no longer seem a foregone conclusion.

Last week, the Cambridge manager, Steve Thompson, was complaining that he could not win a one-ticket raffle; yesterday, he was talking about the corner having been turned. Certainly Cambridge were fortunate in the second half, scoring twice in the final 21 minutes despite Oxford having virtually all of the ball, yet they had been the victims of a similar mugging themselves in the first half.

The home side forced corner after corner but fell behind in first-half injury time as John Ruddy's weak clearance was gathered on the right touchline by Steve Basham. He cut infield and, with exquisite and unexpected quality, curled the ball into the net off the post from 25 yards. Ruddy, despite what Thompson referred to as "a bit of a wobble" yesterday, is in talks with Everton, and could sign a pre-contract agreement tomorrow.

He almost gifted Oxford a second with another weak clearance early in the second half, and as Craig Davies also went close, defeat and further gloom seemed almost inevitable for Cambridge. But with their first attack of the half they equalised, John Turner stabbing home Lee Bradbury's cross from close range.

Dave Woozley should have restored Oxford's lead just moments later but he headed tamely at Ruddy from six yards out. Juan-Pablo Raponi then hit the bar, but it was Cambridge who got the late winner, Shane Tudor driving into the bottom corner as a Warren Goodhind free-kick squirted across the box.

Cambridge, though, continue to fret in misty uncertainty. The sale of their ground for £1.9 million in November paid off immediate debts of £1.5m, and the rest was supposed to tide them over until the end of the season. That projection, predicated on crowds of 4,000, was hopelessly optimistic - 3,765 turned out yesterday, and more than 800 were from Oxford - and within two months the fund had gone. When Roger Hunt (not the England World Cup-winner) replaced Gary Harwood as chairman three weeks ago, he said the club had to raise £300,000 by the end of the month to survive.

It seemed initially that the money would come from a consortium led by Johnny Hon, a board member and businessman who divides his time between London and Hong Kong and has a PhD in psychiatry from Cambridge University. All has gone quiet on that front, but with Cambridge Fans United, a supporters' organisation, raising just under £100,000, the club's vice-chairman, John Howard, indicated last week that they should be able to muddle through until season's end.

With estimates suggesting a drop to the Conference would cost the club £500,000 a year, the next task is to avoid relegation. With Gillingham's forward Iwan Roberts in talks over a player-coach role, that now seems a possibility. Third from bottom, six points adrift of Rushden & Diamonds and in dire financial straits, this is not the best of times for Cambridge. But, astonishingly - given how things looked a week ago - nor is it the worst.

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