Goals from Michael Gash and Luke Berry helped Cambridge United see off Braintree Town 2-0 on Boxing Day.
The U's were always in control at the R Costings Abbey Stadium, and passed up a host of chances to increase their margin of victory during a dominant second half display.
Before the break the match was more even, with the visitors frustrating United with their stalling tactics. It was apparent that Alan Devonshire's men would be happy with a point from the outset, as they attempted to eat up the clock every time the ball went out of play.
And their hopes of a 0-0 went out the window when Michael Gash opened the scoring five minutes before half-time. A long ball from Michael Wylde caught the Iron defence napping, and Gash dashed cleared before powering the ball past Nathan McDonald on the half-volley.
Manager Jez George had made one change to his line-up, bringing in striker Adam Marriott
in place of Rossi Jarvis. Marriott gave a good account of himself in his first start since October, and fizzed a shot just over the bar in the opening moments of the second half.
Tom Shaw saw his shot come back off the post before Berry got the crucial second. Shaw's pass down the line found Marriott, who controlled the ball in the box and pulled it back for Berry to sidefoot home.
As the visitors tired, United should have had more goals, with Gash denied by McDonald, Berry heading against the bar, and Josh Coulson seeing a header cleared off the line by a defender.
Pat O'Connor's last minute red card for Braintree means he will miss the return match at Cressing Road on New Year's Day.
Man of the Match
: Tom Shaw - he and Berry absolutely dominated in midfield.
: Cambridge United 2-0 Braintree
15.23: RED CARD
. Braintree's day goes from bad to worse, O'Connor shown a second yellow card for a poor tackle on Dunk. That's the last action of the match, United comfortable winners here as they claim their first league victory since November, hurrah.
: It's amazing that United haven't got another goal here, Thorpe completely misses his kick with the goal gaping after McDonald palmed away Marriott's cross.
: And United so close again, Berry meets Marriott's set-piece but his header comes back off the bar. Four minutes to be added.
: That should've been 3-0, Roberts does ever so well to find Gash at the near post, but he takes too long getting his shot off and the keeper blocks. United now have a corner after good work from Marriott. Maz takes it himself, its cleared back to the striker, whose second cross is deep to Coulson, whose header is acrobatically cleared off the line. Amazing clearance, think it was Paine who hooked it away for another corner.
15.12: Yellow card.
Poor Yiadom, yellow carded and now derided by the whole of the R Costings Abbey Stadium for tripping over his own feet when looking to break clear down the right. United come forward and O'Connor brings down Dunk, free kick and yellow card for the Braintree man.
15.09: Yellow card
. Thorpe tugged back by Yiadom as he looks to scamper clear down the right onto Jennings long pass. Booking for the winger, free kick for the U's which floats towards the box and is cleared.
: Chance for Marks there, who finds space in the box, sees his initial shot blocked by Roberts, then hoofs the rebound over.
: Substitution for United, off goes Ash Carew to be replaced by Jonathon Thorpe. That'll make United a bit more compact for the last 15 minutes.
: 3,717 people here today, with 164 from Braintree. Not the biggest attendance of the season but the biggest home attendance I think, and it looks like they'll be going home happy at the moment.
: Dunk fouled on the edge of the area, United with the free kick. Favours a cross rather than a shot, and it's in towards Gash, but no-one can profit from his knock-down and Braintree clear.
: United turning it on now, Carew's pass is dummied by Marriott for Berry, who bursts through but can't quite keep control of the ball and the chance is gone.
: Neat cushioned header from Berry finds Dunk, who bursts into the box and drills a cross shot wide of the far post. Less pace on that and Gash would have had a tap in.
: United pressing for a third, ball deflects wide to Dunk, whose cross is flicked clear only as far as Carew, who shoots on the volley but straight at the keeper. Braintree make a second change shortly afterwards, Johnson on for Symons.
CAMBRIDGE UNITED 2-0 BRAINTREE. That's a welcome goal, as Braintree were beginning to look vaguely dangerous. Shaw plays in Marriott on the right of the box, and his cut back is perfect for Luke Berry to stroke the ball into the corner from near the penalty spot.
: Wylde's attempted header clear only falls to Marks, who plays in Chilaka but Naisbitt comes out quickly to put him off and the striker can only poke the ball well wide.
: Great chance for Braintree as Yiadom meets Chilaka's cross at the near post but can only side-foot over.
: Intricate passing from United, and Shaw dances into the box, beats the keeper but sees his shot come back off the post. Carew reaches the rebound but can only trickle a shot across goal and wide. Unlucky from Shaw, that was a nice move.
: Ball over the top finds Marriott in space on the left, and he cuts in before blasting over.
: Long cross from the Braintree left finds O'Connor, who steps inside Wylde and shoots low for the near post only to be denied by a good save from Naisbitt. Referee gives a goal kick, I'm saying nothing.
: United get us back underway, attacking the South Stand. Braintree have made a change at half-time, Chin Chilaka on for Quinton. Signals a switch to 4-4-2 for Alan Devonshire's men.
: Cambridge United 1-0 Braintree Town
: And that's half-time, United in control here and, crucially, have their noses in front thanks to Michael Gash's goal. All good so far, a second after the break would settle the nerves.
: Good play from Gash to bring Roberts in on the right, but his cross floats behind, thats a bit poor as he had time to measure his delivery. Two minutes to be added, United finishing the half well on top.
: Carew's cross headed behind, corner to United. It's taken short to Shaw, whose floated cross goes behind off a Braintree head. Goal kick says the ref. Hmm.
: Braintree weren't happy about that goal, claiming offside, but their line looked a bit shambolic to be honest. Visitors will have to come out of their shell a bit now you'd imagine.
CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1 - 0 BRAINTREE. United in front, and that's a vaguely comical goal, as Michael Wylde's long up and under is completely ignored by the entire Braintree defence, allowing Michael Gash to run through and half-volley into the net. Straight out of the John Beck coaching manual that one, zig zag to the onion bag!
: Marriott, stumbling, works the ball on to Berry, whose shot on the turn is comfortably grabbed by McDonald. Davis then tries to beat Naisbitt from fully 40 yards, but his shot floats well wide with DN wandering around in no mans land.
14.02: Yellow card.
Good move from United, Gash chests down to Dunk, who deliver a low cross but Marriott's shot is blocked. Braintree try to break and Carew breathes heavily on Thomas, who goes down and earns the winger a yellow card. Again more than a tad harsh from the ref, I think Thomas must have got some non-stick boots for Christmas.
: Marriott takes and it's into the wall, zzzz.
: U's corner now, Carew's cross deflected behind. Carew to take, it's low and flicked away to Coulson, who is cleaned out on the edge of the box by a late tackle from Bailey-Dennis. Free kick, left of centre, 25 yards or so out, good position for Carew or Marriott.
: Referee needs to crack down on the visitors' time-wasting, they're taking an age at every re-start. United have lost some of their early zip, perhaps in part due to the visitors slowing the tempo.
: Uh oh, Marriott fouls a Braintree player then reacts angrily to something that was said or done, and pushes the defender over. Wells the Braintree man involved, by referee decides a talking to for both is sufficient. Maz is a lucky boy methinks.
: United make tracks into the box without ever seeming to have the ball under control. Gash tees up Marriott for a shot that deflects away, and Shaw shanks an effort from the edge of the area hopelessly wide.
: Braintree attempting to suck all the life out of this match like a Essex-based based Dementor. Referee Fearn then earns the ire of the main stand by carding Tom Shaw for what was a perfectly timed sliding tackle on Thomas. That wasn't even a free kick let alone a booking. United clear what is a poor set piece.
: Another free kick now though, Shaw upending the retreating Wells. This is a good position, 25 yards out, central position. Quinton's effort is low and cleared by Jennings.
: Andy Yiadom with a theatrical dive and scream under Berry's challenge, free kick Braintree, it's better than a corner but United head clear and Yiadom's miscued shot is cleared by Carew.
: Jennings flighted cross is towards Carew at the back stick, but it's headed behind. Marriott again to take the corner, but there's pushing in the box and that's a free kick to the Iron.
: First chance for Braintree to get forward with Aswad Thomas. His cross finds Marks but the offside flag is up. United break with Dunk, his deep cross is well kept in by Carew, who does well to win a corner. However Marriott's delivery gets a flick off Gash and is cleared.
: Lovely touch from Carew gets Roberts away, but his cross is blocked. United come again though, and it's worked across to Jennings who trundles a shot into the keepers arms.
: United well on top in the early stages, making tracks down the right until Shaw is tripped for a free kick. Good position, 25 yards from goal, right in the middle. Carew to take, and that's just over the right angle of post and bar. Close, but McDonald didn't look overly concerned.
: Carew's corner isn't bad, but it's headed half clear to Shaw, who gets it back to Carew who is tackled and it's behind for another corner. More height this time from Carew, but McDonald just about hangs on.
: We're off and United immediately on the attack, Dunk forcing a corner off O'Connor.
: We're having a change of ends, presumably requested by the U's, as Braintree will kick off attacking the South Stand.
: Here come the teams, United in their traditional amber and black, Braintree in all white.
: Today's match sponsors are EJ and RE Clark, loyal supporters of the club over many years. On the pitch at the moment a presentation is going on to mark (ho ho) Mark Johnson's 500th consecutive match commentating on the U's for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. I don't think a trophy exists that is big enough to commemorate such a feat.
: Saw Santa walking down Newmarket Road earlier, apparently he's a Braintree fan. Who knew? Guess if I was looking for somewhere to relax after my busiest day of the year I'd definitely choose the R Costings Abbey Stadium.
Cambridge United: Naisbitt, Roberts, Jennings, Coulson, Wylde,&nbsp; Carew (Thorpe 76), Dunk, Shaw, Berry, Marriott, Gash. Subs: Charles, Jarvis, Patrick, Thorpe, Hudson.
Braintree Town: McDonald, O'Connor, Thomas, Bailey-Dennis, Wells, Paine, Yiadom, Quinton (Chilaka 45), Symons (Johnson 63), Davis, Marks. Subs: Peters, Johnson, Chilaka, Stevens, Jones
13.05: TEAM NEWS
. One change for United, with Adam Marriott
coming into the starting line-up after a long - and much talked about - absence. He replaces Rossi Jarvis, and will presumably play just behind Michael Gash, with Luke Berry playing in central midfield alongside Tom Shaw. Braintree are not only missing the suspended Jai Reason, but are also without ten-goal top-scorer Ben Wright, who we assume is injured. The visitors are likely to line up in a 5-4-1 formation.
: Hello everyone and welcome to this afternoon's Blue Square Bet Premier clash between Cambridge United and Braintree Town. After the Christmas festivities I'm sure I'm not the only one who's pleased to be out of the house and anticipating what should be a closely-contest game. United's recent wobble has been well documented, and Braintree are likely to be obdurate opponents as Jez George's men look to get back to winning ways.