The first in a new series of features on UTAS where we look back at significant seasons in United history. First up, 1990-91.
Cambridge United started the 90-91 season off the back of a victorious Wembley appearance vs Chesterfield in the previous seasons Play-Off Final, when Dion Dublin settled the tie after 77 minutes.
Life in the Third division started difficultly for the U’s, who kicked off their season against Birmingham City in front of over six thousand fans at the Abbey, losing 1-0.
September saw mixed results for United, wins at Fulham and Exeter showed promise, but a heavy 4-1 defeat at the Abbey to promotion hopefuls Southend damped enthusiasm somewhat. Despite this, by the end of November, United had only lost three times in the League.
Things stepped up a gear in December, wins at Bradford and Preston saw United find form, also winning at home to Tranmere & Grimsby in the League, and beating Fulham in an FA Cup Second Round Replay at the Abbey.
January saw United record a perfect month, beating Preston and Birmingham away in the League, despatching Wolves at Molineux in front of 15,000 thanks to a Chris Leadbitter goal, and defeating Fulham in their only league game at the Abbey in January. The win against Wolves saw Middlesbrough arrive at a packed-to-capacity Abbey towards the end of the month, John Taylor knocking them out with two goals in a 2-0 win. Walsall also experienced a cup exit at the Abbey, their journey in the Leyland DAF Trophy ending thanks to Tony Dennis.
February started with more goals from the potent strike force of Dublin and Taylor, Mansfield going down 2-1 before the Abbey was filled again, over 9,500 watching United despatch second division Sheffield Wednesday in one of the all time classic matches. Ron Atkinson’s return to Cambridge was not a happy one, as John Beck’s disciplined team ran out 4-0 winners thanks to Dion Dublin (with his 14th and 15th goals of the season), Lee Philpott and that man Shaggy.
March saw tiredness start to take it’s toll on United, back to back 3-1 defeats to Crewe (with John Taylor featuring in goal after John Vaughan was sent off) and Birmingham saw the U’s exit the Leyland DAF at the Southern Semi-Final stage, and a few days after they had the tough trip to Highbury to make for their second FA Cup Quarter Final in two seasons. Almost 43,000 fans packed into that old ground, and you’d easily believe that half of them were Cambridge fans judging by the noise we made. Kevin Campbell gave Arsenal the lead, until early in the second half, Cambridge managed what Liverpool, Everton and Spurs had failed to do by scoring at Highbury. Michael Cheetham picked up a Taylor header and headed down the wing, his quick cross was met by Dublin on the volley who lashed it past David Seaman in the Arsenal goal. United’s jubilation was short lived though, as Tony Adams headed in what proved to be the winner ten minutes later to send Arsenal through to the semi finals where they would lose to rivals, and eventual winners Tottenham.
With the cups out the way, United could concentrate on the League, and March saw wins over Orient, Exeter and Chester cancelled out by defeats against Bury and Tranmere. April saw the U’s unbeaten again, Bolton, Grimsby, Reading, Bournemouth (twice), Shrewsbury, Stoke and Wigan all falling to John Beck’s free-scoring side. May saw Bradford come to the Abbey and lose 2-1 which ensured promotion for the Yellows, before the U’s had to the chance to seal the League title at home to Swansea in the last game of the season. Once again, our compact little ground was full, with U’s fans in fine voice all around the ground. Southend were in pole position to take home the title, needing not to lose against Brentford at Roots Hall, where the FA had sent the trophy. U’s fans were tuned to their radios as news that Brentford were winning in Essex spurred United on to a 2-0 win, Steve Claridge and Lee Philpott with the goals. Despite the protestations of the tannoy announcer, jubilant Cambridge fans (many of whom had taken advantage of a generous 33-1 on the title at the bookies) flooded the pitch for a second successive game, as United won their first League title, and promotion to the Second Division.