Cambridge 5-1 FC Halifax Town

Lee Gregory scored Town's goal after seven minutes.
Lee Gregory scored Town's goal after seven minutes.

Nine-man FC Halifax Town were beaten 5-1 at Cambridge in an incident-packed opener to their Conference Premier campaign.

Lee Gregory gave Town the dreamiest of dream starts, but it quickly turned into an opening-day nightmare as two penalties and two red cards were awarded against the Shaymen before half-time.

Neither Danny Lowe nor Matt Glennon appeared to have much of an argument against their dismissals as Town’s sensational start quickly evaporated.

Not surprisingly, Cambridge made their two-man advantage count as they eased to victory, but Town fans may have been left with a thought or two about what might have been had it remained 11 v 11.

The Shaymen’s attacking threat was nullified to such an extent by the two red cards that drawing any conclusions from the game became very difficult, but Gregory’s goal, for five minutes at least, must have felt worth waiting five years for.

Dan Gardner provided Town with a boost before kick-off after passing a fitness test and taking his place on the bench, with Josh Wilson playing the supporting role to Gregory in attack.

Gregory would cut an isoltated figure soon enough, but it took him only seven minutes to register his first goal of the campaign as he swept home from Marc Robert’s header after a Town corner.

But within five minutes, United were level and the number of players on each side wasn’t.

Ex-Leeds youngster Tom Elliott reached a through ball ahead of Lowe and was about to pull the trigger when the Town skipper brought him down.

Cunnington powered in the penalty pat Glennon, although his next spot-kick would be against a different man between the sticks.

Ten minutes later, a short back pass by Roberts let in Harrison Dunk, and the winger just reached the ball before Glennon, whose clip was enough to earn a penalty and another straight red.

Whatever eventuality Neil Aspin had prepared for in the build-up to the game surely didn’t include having to play three-quarters of it with nine men.

BT Sport were certainly getting their money’s worth as the opening quarter of the match packed in more dramatic incidents than an Eastenders omnibus.

Tom Morgan was suddenly dragged into the action two days after signing for the Shaymen when he was called upon to face a second spot-kick, something which he did in his first debut for Halifax against Stevenage back in 2001.

He saved the penalty that day, and did so again, diving full stretch to his right to deny Cunnington a debut double.

But it was only a temporary delay in the inevitable as fellow debutant Ryan Donaldson smashed the ball past Morgan from the edge of the box after Town had bravely held on to parity for 10 minutes.

Substitute Delano Sam-Yorke came mightily close to opening up a two-goal lead just before the break but his header trickled inches wide of the far post as Town managed to hold on until half-time just one goal behind.

But that didn’t last long after the restart as Roberts’ debut became one to forget while Sam-Yorke made it another debut to remember for the hosts when he latched on to another sloppy back pass by the defender before calmly rolling the ball past Morgan.

The fact that Roberts had been caught out moments before by a poor pass out of defence only compounded the misery for the centre-back, who was substituted for Keith Briggs minutes later.

Town at least made a fight of it with Josh Wilson’s free-kick that Chris Maxwell parried behind, while Matt Pearson did his best to make it seem that Cambridge had no numerical advantage with a typically energetic display.

But the hosts unsurprisingly created plenty of opportunities as space opened up for them in the final third, with Nathan Arnold’s well-hit drive saved by Morgan before Cunnington dragged his shot across goal from inside the box.

But the league’s second-top scorer last season doubled his tally soon after when he lashed the ball across Morgan into the far corner as Town were given a harsh introduction to life among the non-league elite.

The best finish was yet to come though as Sam-Yorke rifled the ball into the roof of the net from 18 yards after a Cambridge corner.

Cunnington somehow failed to net his hat-trick with a free header that drifted wide from 10 yards as Cambridge really started to enjoy themselves as the game wound down.

Tom Morgan made some good saves as the clock wore on to prevent the scoreline resembling something akin to Hyde’s trouncing at Forest Green, but it was a day to forget for the Shaymen, who have 48 hours to recover before the visit of Wrexham.

Cambridge: Maxwell, Tait, Bonner, Miller, Taylor (Berry 54), Donaldson, Champion, Dunk, Arnold (Hughes 72), Cunnington, Elliott (Sam-Yorke 44). Subs not used: McAuley, Wilson.

Scorers: Cunnington (pen 12, 67), Donaldson (36), Sam-Yorke (50, 71)

Shots on target: 12

Shots off target: 8

Corners: 10

Halifax: Glennon, Toulson, McManus, Roberts (Briggs 54), Lowe, Smith (Ainge 12), Maynard, Pearson, Holsgrove (Morgan 25), Wilson, Gregory. Subs not used: Johnson, Gardner.

Scorer: Gregory (7)

Shots on target: 2

Shots off target: 4

Corners: 1

Attendance: 2,780

Man of the match: Matt Pearson