HOW CAMBRIDGE UNITED PULLED OFF AN INCREDIBLE PROMOTION FROM LEAGUE TWO
From the progression through the ranks of manager Mark Bonner to the incredible campaign of League Two top scorer Paul Mullin, everything has gone right for the Amber Army recently.
Although they were made to wait to seal their highest league finish since 2002 and eventually missed out on the title, a comprehensive victory over much-improved Grimsby on the final day got the job done.
Bonner’s journey is quite a story in itself after the 35-year-old worked his way up from coaching various youth teams at the club to a couple of short stints as caretaker manager in the first half of the 2019-20 season.
He was then given an 18-month contract as head coach just as the covid-19 pandemic hit and didn’t actually manage his first game for six months.
That contract was a reward for a four-game winning run to take them away from the relegation zone.
On the whole, caretaker managers given the job permanently because of a few good games during a ‘bounce’ don’t tend to succeed. However, this case could hardly have gone better for the Yellows.
Bonner made his intentions clear early in the summer by bringing in Norwich City legend Wes Hoolahan, not a bad replacement for the outgoing George Maris.
Hiram Boateng was another impressive early-season addition, but not many people would have predicted Cambridge to be in the promotion shake-up.
They got off to a sensational start, only losing one of their first nine games, including two 5-0s.
Mullin had been something of a journeyman League Two striker before arriving at The Abbey Stadium, but scored eight in the first six league games.
He was clearly feeling confident right from the start of the season and everything he touched turned to goals from then on, ending the campaign with 34 in all competitions.
Hoolahan’s impact was also very noticeable straight away as his superb technical quality tore apart defences, not surprising given the fairly significant step down he’d made.
Those two instantly stick out, but Greg Taylor and Harrison Dunk were also near ever-presents and found a new lease of life at the club having made more than 600 Cambridge appearances between them.
Despite a brief defensive crisis when ball-playing centre-back Harry Darling signed for MK Dons in January, Bonner’s men recovered quickly to move from outside the play-offs to the summit of League Two in a matter of weeks.
Between them, loanees Jubril Okedina and Declan Drysdale made up for Darling’s departure, and allowed the likes of Mullin and Hoolahan to do their thing up front once again.
As the business end of the season began, the latter scored the winner and was the standout player in a big win against Forest Green Rovers, which came in a run of four straight wins.
Defeat to Exeter didn’t affect the Amber Army as they notched up back-to-back wins against Newport and Leyton Orient to move to the verge of promotion.
It took until the final day of the season to seal the deal, but Cambridge will play in the third tier next season for the first time since 2001-02.
It’s the reward that Bonner and his staff deserve after keeping their feet on the ground all year and urging their players to do the same.
Mullin’s form is unlikely to repeat itself next season, and with another year of running in the legs of Wes Hoolahan, Cambridge have a big summer of recruitment ahead of them if they’re to continue this fairy-tale in League One.