Liam O’Neil thundered home a sublime late winner for Cambridge United to earn an industrious 0-1 victory over Port Vale.
The midfielder registered his third goal in United colours in some style four minutes from time to solidify the U’s position at the top of the Sky Bet League Two table.
Mark Bonner made four changes from the defeat to Cheltenham Town, Wes Hoolahan and Shilow Tracey returning to the starting eleven, Declan Drysdale featuring for the first time in central defence and Hiram Boateng making his start since suffering his shoulder injury in early December.
Adam May had the game’s first shot after Paul Mullin had stretched the Vale defence with a run in behind and found the midfielder in a central shooting position, but Scott Brown was able to claim the effort comfortably low at his feet.
A mistake from Declan Drysdale opened up a guilt-edged opportunity for Port Vale’s Kurtis Guthrie ten minutes in, but the U’s centre back will have been thankful to his keeper Callum Burton who stood tall and closed down the one on one to ensure it remained goalless.
Wes Hoolahan tested Scott Brown with a well-hit left foot attempt from 20 yards, but it was a good height for the Valiants keeper to parry away from danger.
It remained level up to half time, but the U’s looked to be the more creative side. A combination of Boateng and Hoolahan came close to unlocking the Vale defence on the half an hour mark, but Hannant’s snapshot from an angle took a small nick and flew across the face of goal.
Paul Mullin wasn’t quite able to capitalise when Adam May dispossessed Adam Crookes to give the striker a chance to attack the box, but the Vale defence tracked back in time to block a pass towards the awaiting flurry of U’s players in what was the final meaningful opening of the first half.
Shilow Tracey got around the Vale full back in the opening minute after the break, and pulled a cross back from the byline into Hannant who was closed down before he had the chance to direct the ball on target.
Kyle Knoyle fizzed a pass into the path of Hannant down the left of the Vale penalty area just before the hour, whose cross was tantalisingly beyond both the reach of Paul Mullin and from creeping in at the far post.
Mark Bonner shuffled his pack with 20 minutes to play as Joe ironside and Liam O’Neil were introduced to the fold, and within minutes the later forced an excellent point blank save from Brown. The midfielder met an in swinging cross from Hoolahan with his head which the Vale keeper showed lightening reactions to claw away from goal.
Ironside too had a chance to break the deadlock when Harrison Dunk’s header into his feet presented him the opportunity to shoot on the swivel, only to see it blocked by a cluster of Vale defensive legs.
But the stage was set for O’Neil, who ran on to a half cleared header from the Vale penalty area and leathered home a thunderous winner from 25 yards in the 86th minute.
Mullin was wihin a whisker of adding a second before full time as United saw out the win without a scare.
Port Vale: Brown, Mills, Smith, Legge, Crookes, Conlon, Taylor, Burgess, Montano (Hurst, 45 mins), Rodney (Cullen, 82 mins), Guthrie (Robinson, 62 mins)
Cambridge United: Burton, Knoyle, Drysdale, Taylor, Dunk, Hannant, May, Boateng (O’Neil, 69 mins), Hoolahan, Tracey (Ironside, 69 mins), Mullin (Okedina, 90 mins)