Cambridge United fought from behind to beat Leyton Orient 2-1 in their Sky Bet League Two Boxing Day clash at the Abbey Stadium.
The O’s went into the break a goal to the good after Danny Johnson had tapped home, but the U’s recovered to take full points with well-taken strikes from Wes Hoolahan and Paul Mullin.
Mark Bonner made three changes to the U’s side that were edged out by Bradford City a week earlier, with Adam May, Hoolahan and Joe Ironside all returning to the starting eleven.
United enjoyed an assertive start to the encounter and went close in the second minute when Luke Hannant cut inside before teeing up an onrushing Jack Iredale down the left, whose missed its target Mullin when a shot was perhaps the better option.
Conor Wilkinson went close for the O’s minutes later, his speculative effort from 30 yards dipping just over Callum Burton’s crossbar as the visitor’s began to see more of the ball.
On 22, Orient broke the deadlock. A tricky cross down the right from Jobi McAnuff was not cleared by United’s backline, eventually falling to Johnson who was at the right place at the right time to stab home.
Eager to immediately level matters, the U’s stepped it up a gear. A pinpoint cross from Iredale on 25 was met by the head of Paul Digby, who generated the power but couldn’t keep it under the bar.
Burton was called into action moments later. An outstanding run from Wilkinson, who did well to jink past three United defenders, culminated in an attempt which was fired at the gloves of the goalkeeper who prevented the danger.
Mullin combined well with Ironside on 36, playing a neat one-two on the overlap with his strike partner before shooting low and into the hands of an alert Lawrence Vigouroux.
On the brink of half time, a floating cross from Kyle Knoyle found an unmarked Mullin in the box. The attempt lacked finesse though, as it blazed wide to conclude the first period of a scrappy affair, where the hosts had not quite got going.
From the get go after the interval, the U’s made clear their intent to attack and ten minutes onto the half, they equalised. Hoolahan was allowed the time and space to pick his spot and delightfully nestle an exquisite shot into the net from just inside the O’s area, having popped up in the pocket of space unmarked.
A rapid turnaround was complete two minutes later. Hoolahan was once again at the heart of the play, scampering forward and finding Ironside who crisply set up an unmarked Mullin, for League Two’s most potent striker to coolly snaffle his 19th of the campaign.
A corner from Hannant on 69 floated to the feet of Greg Taylor whose attempt deep into the danger zone dipped onto the top of the crossbar and out of play.
The visiting O’s went gung ho in order to claw the game back by welcoming four attacking options from the bench. Despite this, the hosts were resolute defensively and continued to clear their lines impeccably.
It was actually one of United’s substitutes, Harvey Knibbs, who was presented with an opportunity to kill the game on 84. After clearing a corner, the striker looked to be in a one-on-one scenario as he waited for the ball to come down, but was prevented by an tracking Orient defender before he could get a shot away.
Cambridge United: Burton, Knoyle, Taylor, Darling, Iredale (Dunk, 87), Hannant (Davies, 87), Digby, May, Hoolahan, Ironside, Mullin (Knibbs, 81)
Bookings: Hannant, May
Leyton Orient: Vigouroux, Ling, Coulson, Happe, Widdowson (Dennis, 74), McAnuff, Cisse (Angol, 74), Clay (Maguire-Drew, 85), Brophy, Wilkinson (Sotiriou, 78), Johnson