Cambridge United goalkeeper Kai McKenzie-Lyle has won the award for Papa John’s Trophy Player of the Round following his spectacular display against Walsall in Round Two.
The 24-year-old was in inspired form as the U’s faced a barrage of attacks from their Sky Bet League Two opponents, who failed to score despite registering 24 shots at goal.
McKenzie-Lyle was called into action on several occasions, including denying Kieran Phillips from the penalty spot, while goals from Sam Smith and Shilow Tracey secured a 2-0 victory for Mark Bonner’s side.
He said: “As a goalkeeper, there are some games where you’re not really needed other than one or two moments. You can go through a whole game without having to make a save or touch the ball.
“We played a good Walsall side and they really tested us. I had to make a save in about the fifth minute, then I made another one a couple of minutes later and then another one soon after that. In the second half, it was the same really. You’re always focused during a game, but I think it does have a psychological impact when you’re involved early and often.
“Ideally, you’d want to go through every game without having to make a save but being busy is a chance to show that you can make those saves and you can play your part in helping the team to win. I like the pressure of being relied upon and I enjoyed the test.”
As the number two option behind Dimitar Mitov, the Guyana international has only featured once as a substitute in Sky Bet League One for Cambridge, so has benefited greatly from the Papa John’s Trophy, making four starts and keeping two clean sheets in the competition this season.
“It’s been really important for me,” he admitted. “We’re in a new league and doing well and Dimi has been playing well in goal, so the Papa John’s Trophy is the competition where I was always going to get most of my game time.
“It’s been good for me to have the opportunity to play against some good League One and League Two sides and the Premier League U21s as well. Every game in this competition has been competitive; there are no easy games. It’s a good competition and it’s nice to do well and progress in it.”
The U’s followed up their triumph over Walsall by overcoming 2019 winners Portsmouth, booking their place in the Quarter-Final stage, where they will take on League One high-flyers Rotherham United.
With the Club just two games away from a potential trip to Wembley, McKenzie-Lyle is excited about the prospect of competing for silverware.
“We take any competition we’re involved in seriously and we always want to progress as far as we can, so it’s definitely a priority for us to go further in this competition,” he continued.
“You don’t know how many opportunities you’ll ever get to go to Wembley as a player and how many cups you might win. It’d be a great occasion to be part of that final and winning it would be even better, so we’re determined to keep progressing, especially now we’re so close to the end.
“Rotherham are a good side and are in good form near the top of League One, so it’ll be a tough game. We know what we can do and if we perform at our best on the night, then we can come away with a result and progress to the next round.
“There’s a good feeling around the group at the moment and that’s shown in our league form and the FA Cup win against Newcastle. We’ve been grinding out results and fighting for each other and that’ll take us far in any competition.”