Cambridge United returned to winning ways in Sky Bet League Two with a 2-1 victory over Colchester United at the Abbey Stadium.
The U’s raced into a two-goal lead during a spell of second half dominance when Paul Mullin dispatched a brace. Substitute Michael Folivi turned it into a slender advantage with a penalty, but it proved to be just a consolation as the hosts held firm to secure a crucial three points and a return to the play-off positions.
Determined to reignite that winning feeling, Mark Bonner made three changes to the side that fell to defeat at Forest Green Rovers three days earlier. Jack Iredale, Idris El Mizouni and Harvey Knibbs were all given the nod to start, including a welcome boost to the bench, where Joe Ironside returned to the fold.
The hosts got off to a lightning start. Mullin held the ball up well from 25 yards, before turning and lashing a curling attempt goal bound which goalkeeper Dean Gerken dealt with well.
However, the Essex U’s looked dangerous on the counter attack and roamed forward in numbers. Courtesy of tricky play down the right from Callum Harriott, Colchester were presented with a good chance when the winger curled wide from an angle on the 9th minute.
The woodwork was rattled on the 19th minute when Luke Hannant played a pinpoint through ball to Iredale on the overlap, whose floating cross tapped the edge of the crossbar on its way out.
On the contrary, Colchester carved out two strong attempts of their own before the half hour mark in a very fast-paced start to proceedings. Found on the edge of the box, Luke Norris tested Callum Burton’s reflexes with a powerful shot, before lively youngster Kwame Poku went inches wide with a drilled attempt towards the far post.
On the 31st minute, Greg Taylor robbed the ball off Ben Stevenson in the middle of the park with a stern interception before releasing a scurrying Knibbs who forced a corner with a neat attempt from distance.
Five minutes later, Hannant carried the ball down the right hand side before cutting inside with pace and unleashing a fierce shot which went wide.
Colchester broke from there. The majestic feet of Poku scrambled the U’s backline but on the turn blazed his attempt well away from Burton’s net.
On 43, Iredale cannoned an absolute piledriver from 30 yards, leaving Gerken rooted to the spot who could only watch as it smashed the stanchion.
On the stroke of the half-time whistle, following a well-placed El Mizouni free kick, United were agonisingly close to taking the lead. A corner fell to the head of Harry Darling, who was denied from close range by excellent reactions from Gerken. It ultimately concluded an entertaining first period, with the home side unlucky not to have broken the deadlock after a dominant spell of one-way traffic at the death.
The tenacity continued after the interval when a state-of-the-arts free kick from Hannant was met by the head of Mullin who expertly guided home on the 50th minute to send the Newmarket Road End into pandemonium.
United found themselves two goals to the good on the 65th minute when Knibbs did all the hard work by driving down the right hand side and playing an exquisite ball into the path of Mullin at the far post who tapped into an empty net and wheeled away for goal number 18 of the campaign.
Colchester restored parity three minutes later. Former U Jevani Brown teed up fellow substitute Folivi, who was clipped by Darling as he jinked past. The striker ensured an immediate reply when he neatly converted from the spot.
After a quickly-taken free kick, Harriott was away down the right flank, but pressure from the defence forced a lashed attempt against the side netting on 86.
As the game wore on, the hosts showed plenty of endeavour going forward and their backline remained resolute as they limited the visitors to very little clear cut opportunities, seeing out the encounter in a professional manner.
Cambridge United: Burton, Knoyle, Darling, Cundy, Iredale, Hannant, Digby, Taylor, El Mizouni (Davies, 88), Knibbs, Mullin (Ironside, 90)
Colchester United: Gerken, Eastman, Bramall (Clampin, 83), Smith, Welch-Hayes (Tchamadeu, 71), Poku, Stevenson, Harriott, Gambin (Folivi, 59) Senior (Chilvers, 59), Norris (Brown, 59)