Robbie Simpson was the hero as Cambridge City gained revenge over Chelmsford in dramatic and controversial circumstances at New lodge.
During the first-half there were few clues as to the drama that was to unfold as Cambridge controlled a competitive but low-key affair. As early as the 6th minute the visitors threatened after taking a quick free-kick. Jack Wignall's long ball upfield found Leon Gutzmore powering through the centre of the home defence. Keeper Paul Nicholls was smartly off his line to smother as the Cambridge striker was about to pull the trigger.
Chelmsford were on the back foot as the visitors continued to force the early pace, and their efforts were rewarded after 14 minutes. Martin Davies' goalkick was headed on by Stuart Niven to Sturgess who adroitly found the onrushing Simpson. The young striker controlled with his head and outpaced the home defence before delightfully caressing the ball into the corner of the net giving the exposed Nicholls not a hope. The early goal for the visitors was, on balance of play, no real surprise.
It took the Chelmsford half an hour to create anything of real note, but when they did, Mike Rutherford's effort forced Davies into a superb flying fingertip save. Two minutes later, an error by Adie Hayes presented Phil Dean with a shooting chance which he ballooned over the crossbar. Chelmsford were turning up the heat and in the 37th minute came the first of several contentious moments. Jack Wignall was booked for a mistimed tackle on Dean which looked far worse than it actually was. Wignall was the villain as the home fans took their frustration out on him. Seconds later Simpson was felled by a painful knee-high tackle, which earned the culprit only a lecture, as tempers flared on the pitch.
City nearly doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when the lively Gutzmore forced Nicholls into another save at the foot of the post.
Chelmsford began the second period in determined fashion, taking the game to Cambridge. Lewis Reid tried his luck from distance, but Davies had the shot covered. Then, as the home side began to dominate, Austin Berkeley stretched City on the left flank before cutting a wicked cross inside the penalty area. Danny Slatter and Tony Samuels both went for the aerial ball along with Shane Wardley and amazingly the ball fell into the grateful arms of Davies.
On the hour, the visitors had a good penalty shout waived away. Simpson appeared to be tripped in the area after beating a defender to Kevin Wilkin's cross. Five minutes later, City produced an incisive attack. Wilkin threaded the ball to Simpson, who in turn squared it to Hayes who drilled in a low shot which Nicholls, at full stretch, tipped round the post.
With 15 minutes left, the game, which had been simmering, finally boiled over. Wignall, already booked, was lucky not to receive a second yellow card after tripping Steve Bennett on the edge of the box. The home players reacted angrily, surrounding the referee, but the City defender escaped with a severe warning much to the dismay of the home fans. Barry Lakin lashed the resulting free-kick against the crossbar and it was scrambled to safety. Moments later, the jeers of the home fans turned to cheers as Colin Vowden was kicked in the head and laid out in the penalty area by Dale Watkin's reckless overhead kick.
Chelmsford finally got reward for their second half efforts with seven minutes left on the clock. Tony Samuels benefited from a pass inside as Chelmsford broke, to bundle the ball over the line.
With parity restored, a draw looked the likely outcome but City had other ideas. Immediately from the restart they nearly restored their lead. Simpson surged forward, beat two defenders before clipping a shot at goal which Nicholls only just managed to grab as it headed for the top corner.
The game had taken on a cup tie feel as both sides took no prisoners with their tackles. It was end-to-end stuff as each went in search of the winner. In stoppage time, Niven's throw was so nearly glanced into his own net by Brian Statham, the ball rebounding off the crossbar to safety. Then deep into stoppage time came the decisive moment of the match. Simpson, a thorn in Chelmsford's side all night, was expertly found by Hayes' precise pass and the striker rampaged in on goal before thumping an unstoppable shot into the net as Nicholls attempted to narrow the angle. Delight for Simpson and all connected with Cambridge City, despair and bewilderment for the home side and their fans.