Cambridge United continued their emphatic start to the Sky Bet League Two campaign with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Port Vale at the Abbey Stadium.
A penalty a piece in the first half from Paul Mullin and Theo Robinson saw both sides go into the break level. However, a further two goals from Mullin wrapped up the three points as the U’s retained their place at the summit of the division.
Mark Bonner made two changes to the side that ran riot in a comprehensive 0-5 victory over Scunthorpe United on Saturday. Hiram Boateng stepped in for his first start, replacing Adam May. Whereas Wes Hoolahan returned to action at the expense of Joe Ironside.
United got off to a dream start, being awarded a penalty with just one minute on the clock after a foul on Luke Hannant. Mullin worked his magic from the spot once more, rifling past Scott Brown with sheer power to send his side into an early lead.
Good defending by Harry Darling to deny Robinson a sniff at goal on the seventh minute carved out a strong counter attack for the hosts, resulting in a Luke Hannant attempt which was well blocked.
Hoolahan clattered the post minutes later after majestically dancing his way past two defenders as United continued to assert their early dominance.
An exquisite cross from the right side found the head of an onrushing Harrison Dunk on the 16th minute, the winger just unable to get his angles correct as his attempt went wide.
However, Robinson was fed by a flick on and mhared forwards for the visitors, and appeared to be fouled by Darling before he could pull the trigger. Referee Trevor Kettle agreed and pointed to the spot and the striker calmly dispatched past Dimitar Mitov to level the scoring on the 18th minute.
David Worrall picked up on a superb passage of play on 34, his drilled cross was dealt with well by Greg Taylor as United cleared their lines.
The Valiants were awarded with a guilt-edged chance on the 42nd minute, an acrobatic Danny Whitehead volley from 16 yards blazing high over the crossbar after another teasing Worrall cross.
Moments before the break, a cushioned header from Dunk found an open Darling in the box who couldn’t quite produce the spectacular with his back to goal as both sides enjoyed a positive end to the first half.
The U’s restored their lead with a goal of the highest quality ten minute after half time. An inch-perfect ball from Boateng, following early build up play between Iredale and Hoolahan, found Dunk, who raced away down the left side and squared the ball on a plate for an unmarked Mullin who buried it home to send the U’s back into the driving seat.
A small scramble in United’s defending area led to a great chance for the lively Robinson to instantly equalise, his attempt was dealt with expertly by Mitov.
Mullin was unlucky not to be wheeling away with his hat-trick on the 57th minute. After being found open from a deflection, his attempt to stab it in Brown’s far post had too much direction as it scraped the post.
On the hour mark, a good delivery from David Fitzpatrick found an unmarked Christian Montano. His header had power, but sailed just wide of Mitov’s bar.
The Valiants had been executing some dangerous crosses and long balls all evening, that proved more evident as his initial delivery curled towards goal and into the hands of an alert Mitov on the 68th minute.
As the game entered its latter stages, Bonner brought on fresh legs in Leon Davies and Adam May with the task of seeing the game out in a professional manner.
Desperate for an equaliser, the Valiants added attacking options in Devante Rodney and Tom Pope to the game. Darling did just enough to slice a clearance away from danger on the 84th minute as United’s rearguard were tested numerous times.
At a last throw of the dice, a 25 yard Tom Conlon free kick was fired at the head of former U Leon Legge who couldn’t engineer a chance as United continued to defend resolutely.
And Mullin’s industrious work for the evening was not done yet. On the brink of the final whistle, May slipped through Mthe striker who, as cool as you like, took it round Brown and rolled it into the back of the net from a tight angle. It was his tenth league goal of the season in just seven games for United, who together celebrated the continuation of a mightily impressive start.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Darling, Iredale (Davies, 77 mins), Hannant, Boateng (May, 77 mins), Digby, Dunk, Hoolahan (Ironside, 84 mins), Mullin
Port Vale: Brown, Clark, Smith, Legge, Fitzpatrick, Joyce, Conlon, Whitehead (Rodney, 80 mins), Montano (Pope, 84 mins), Worrall, Robinson