Goals from O'Neil, Hoolahan and Mullin secured the victoryBen Phillips

Cambridge United have this afternoon (08/05) secured automatic promotion to League One after a 3-0 victory against bottom side Grimsby Town.

The U’s went into the match having made three changes to the side since their 5-4 defeat at Harrogate Town last Friday (30/04), with Darren Drysdale, Hiram Boateng and Jack Iredale dropping to the bench and making way Jubril Okedina, Harrison Dunk and Liam O’Neil.

The first half started out in standard fashion, with Grimsby Town playing at the back in the opening minutes, before Cambridge’s Paul Mullin had a shot saved in the sixth minute. While Cambridge played with more offensive quality, both sides got forward, created chances and defended well to keep the scoreline level. However, Mark Bonner’s changes paid off after Luke Hannant delivered a free kick into the box from the left and the ball fell to Liam O’Neil, who volleyed into the left of the goal to make it 1-0 to the U’s in the 25th minute. Grimsby continued to have chances but they lacked the offensive quality to capitalise on opportunities, with a cross going over and out in the 42nd minute. Cambridge had a corner in the 45th minute with Wes Hoolahan delivering from the right, but the ball went out to the left and Grimsby’s Rollin Menayese dispossessed Cambridge’s Harrison Dunk to clear, with the scoreline remaining 1-0 at half-time.

The U’s then wrapped up the match in the second half with Hoolahan scoring directly from a free kick from the right, where the ball whipped straight into the bottom left of the Grimsby goal in the 57th minute to make it 2-0. Mullin then drilled a right-footed free kick from the left edge of the area straight into the bottom right for 3-0. While Grimsby grew into the game, almost pulling a goal back with a free kick from Ira Jackson tipped over the bar by Callum Burton in the 84th minute, Cambridge held on for the three points and promotion.

The U’s, having earned promotion for the first time in seven years since their promotion from the Conference to League Two in 2014, have been an exciting side to watch this season, winning 24 times in the league, with 12 of those away from home. The side has particularly benefited from the services of the league’s overall top scorer in Paul Mullin, who has achieved 32 goals with and four assists over all 46 games of the campaign, scoring on average every 123 minutes. He also earned the Player of the Season award. Meanwhile Wes Hoolahan, the 38-year-old former Republic of Ireland international, has pulled the creative strings in midfield, finishing the season with the league’s fourth-highest number of assists, achieving nine assists and seven goals over 33 matches.

Having missed out on automatic promotion twice with consecutive defeats at home to Stevenage (0-1) away at Harrogate Town (4-5), Cambridge United finish the season in second place and will now ply their trade in Sky Bet League One for the 2021/22 season along with Cheltenham Town, who have won the Sky Bet League Two title after beating Harrogate Town 4-1, and Bolton Wanderers, who beat Crawley Town 4-1.

Meanwhile, fourth-placed Morecambe will come up against seventh-placed Tranmere Rovers in the play-offs, with the first leg taking place away at Tranmere on Tuesday 18 May, while fifth-placed Newport will travel to sixth-placed Forest Green Rovers on Thursday 20 May. Both second leg fixtures will then be played on Sunday 23, before the final at Wembley Stadium right at the end of the month on Monday 31.

Cambridge United:

Starting XI: Callum Burton (GK), Kyle Knoyle, Paul Digby, Greg Taylor, Luke Hannant, Liam O’Neil, Paul Mullin, Harrison Dunk, Wes Hoolahan, Jubril Okedina, Joe Ironside

Substitutes: Kai McKenzie-Lyle (GK), Jack Iredale, Declan Drysdale, Aji Alese, Shiloh Tracey, Adam May, Hiram Boateng

Grimsby Town

Starting XI: James McKeown, Luke Hendrie, Matt Green, Giles Coke, Luke Spokes, Harry Clifton, Lenell John-Lewis, Elliott Hewitt, Matthew Pollock, Rollin Menayese, Evan Khouri

Subs: Ollie Battersby (GK), Luke Waterfall, Sean Scannell, Ira Jackson Jr, Louis Allard, Sam Habergham, Julien Lamy

Referee: Tom Nield

Assistant Referees: Andrew Dallison and Michael Webb

Fourth Official: Carl Brook