Cambridge United were made to pay for a slack second half display as Oldham Athletic inflicted a narrow 1-2 defeat at the Abbey Stadium.
Quickfire strikes from Conor McAleny and Alfie McCalmont around the hour mark, gave the Latics a clear winning margin despite a stunning injury time strike from Paul Mullin, who had been denied from the penalty spot in the first half.
Mark Bonner made three changes to the side that were edged out by Mansfield Town three days earlier, welcoming back Adam May, Jack Iredale and handing out a first League start of the season for Harvey Knibbs. Joe Ironside was forced out the side owing to a quad injury.
Excellent play down the right from Dylan Fage presented the first chance of the game for Oldham on five, putting it on a plate for Bobby Grant who was denied by a no-nonsense Robbie Cundy block.
The visitors did have the ball in the back of the net on the 11th minute when Brice Ntambwe finished off a neat passage of play by converting into a tight angle. It was, however, chalked off for offside by the linesman.
A marauding run forward from Kyle Knoyle on the 20th minute presented Luke Hannant with the opportunity to deliver a dangerous cross into the box, causing a scramble in the area which was eventually cleared.
McAleny found the space to roam into the box from a tricky angle down the left, but before he could pull the trigger he was denied by another well-executed Cundy tackle as the game approached its half hour mark.
The U’s were awarded a penalty on the 41st minute when Knibbs was felled inside the box. Mullin stepped up, but was denied by Ian Lawlor who had dived low quickly to palm the attempt away and ensure the encounter stayed deadlock heading into the interval after a well-matched first half.
A rampant start to the second period resulted in a golden opportunity for Oldham, a surging run into the box from Ben Garrity gave him the space to squeeze a low angled effort agonisingly wide of Dimitar Mitov’s post.
United conjured up a chance of their own minutes later. Clever linkup play between Hannant and Knoyle resulted in a menacing cross in a dangerous position that was frantically cleared after both Knibbs and Iredale got touches.
Harry Kewell’s side eventually opened the afternoon’s scoring on the 57th minute, when a block from Greg Taylor fell into the path of McAleny, who executed a crisp volley on the turn into the net from eight yards.
They were celebrating their second three minutes later when a deep cross was met by Sido Jombati at the far post, setting up McCalmont who fired in low from close range.
In truth, the U’s showed little promise of a comeback for much of the remainder of the fixture, and required Mitov to keep the scoreline to two, with a pair of saves from successive Oldham set pieces seven minutes from time.
Substitute Dylan Bahamboula almost killed the game off for Latics on 83, when his free kick from 25 yards out got plenty of dip but was smartly turned aside by Mitov.
Mullin, produced a moment of pure quality in stoppage time, pivoting in possession to face goal followed with a sweetly struck attempt that rifled beyond Lawlor. His 15th goal of the season could not ignite a late fightback as the visitors saw out the game.
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taylor, Cundy, Dunk, Hannant, May (El Mizouni, 74), Digby, Iredale (Hoolahan, 65), Knibbs, Mullin
Oldham Athletic: Lawlor, Jombati, Clarke, Diarra, Borthwick-Jackson, Ntambwe, McCalmont (Bahamboula, 66), Garrity, Fage (Whelan, 75), McAleny (Barnett, 75) Grant
Bookings: Grant, McCalmont, McAleny, Borthwick-Jackson