Cambridge United secured promotion from Sky Bet League Two with a comprehensive 3-0 final-day victory over relegated Grimsby Town at the Abbey Stadium...
An unstoppable Liam O’Neil strike put the U’s in the driving seat, before sumptuous free-kicks from Wes Hoolahan and the record-breaking Paul Mullin rounded off the scoring to ensure the season curtailed in an applaudable 2nd position.
Mark Bonner made three changes to the side that were on the receiving end of a preposterous 5-4 defeat to Harrogate Town eight days earlier, with Jubril Okedina, Harrison Dunk and Liam O’Neil returning to the fold.
The U’s had full control of their fate going into the encounter, knowing that the avoidance of a defeat would see them over the line. They were no doubt adamant to conclude a sublime campaign with a convincing performance nonetheless. Where the Mariners were concerned, they couldn’t escape relegation to the National League, despite a late revival. In spite of the setback, they boasted a record of just three losses in their last 14 and will be optimistic for a swift return.
United started the match in a cautious manner and bided their time before conjuring up the first shot at goal through Paul Mullin on the 6th minute. After being teed up by Kyle Knoyle down the right flank, the striker couldn’t find the corner of the net from 12 yards as James McKeown calmly collected.
The next attempt fell the way of the visitors moments later when Matthew Pollock leapt well to meet Luke Spokes’ cross but the header was diverted wide of Callum Burton’s right post.
The U’s sparked euphoria by drawing first blood on the 25th minute. An excellent header into the mixer from the battling Joe Ironside found its way to an unmarked O’Neil who, from 10 yards, unleashed a hammering volley into the roof of the net to send his side into delirium.
With chances at a premium, the breakthrough allowed the hosts to stamp their authority in the middle of the park and professionally see out the first half to ensure Bonner’s side were halfway to glory.
The intensity continued from the U’s after the interval - remaining composed all over the park. They entered dreamland on the 56th minute when the advantage was stretched to two goals. A delightful Hoolahan free-kick from the far right was whipped towards the danger zone, evading the visiting backline and nestling in the back of the net. United were on the cusp of a magnificent feat.
Whilst the goal boosted United’s spirits, it knocked the stuffing out of the Lincolnshire side who couldn’t pepper a stern backline. Harry Clifton went close for Paul Hurst’s men on the 75th minute, his drilled attempt from 25 yards comfortably gathered by Burton.
Four minutes later, the U’s could already taste the first sip of champagne when Mullin cannoned a barnstorming free-kick past McKeown to shut up shop and congregate with his jubilant teammates. It secured yet another record for the top scorer, his 32nd league strike of the campaign is now the most in a single season since League Two’s 2004/05 introduction.
And just like that, United’s seven-year stay in the fourth tier was over. A first return since 2002 to the third tier of English football beckoned.