Key player: Wes Hoolahan
I think it would be silly not to pick the thirty nine year old Irishman, who is entering his 21st season as a professional and with a whopping 642 career appearances including 86 goals and 103 assists.
A talented and diminutive, attacking midfielder Hoolahan boasts 43 caps for his country including appearances at two European Championships. With excellent technical ability, Hoolahan has been able to play at all four levels of English football, looking comfortable at the highest level.
Last season was Hoolhan’s first in the fourth tier completing the cohort, and he ended the season with a healthy seven goals and eight assists.
Cambridge will be hoping to feature Hoolahan in as many games as they can and draw from his experience as they will be aiming to stay in the division.
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Manager: Mark Bonner
Bonner’s rise to a EFL promotion winner has taken far from the conventional route, the 35 year old is the youngest manager by 42 days beating newly appointed Swansea manager Russell Martin to the title.
Bonner has no noted playing experience, not even Sunday League and instead grew up as a fan of the club watching on the terraces, before joining the club’s schools’ coaching programme in 2002 as a seventeen year old the last time Cambridge were in the third tier of English football, there’s a certain poetry to that isn’t there?
Bonner did leave Cambridge temporarily in 2005, taking a coaching role in the academy at Southend United following the U’s relegation to the national league.
He would return in 2011 for a position back in the academy at his boyhood club. Since then Bonner has worked his way up the ranks, before getting his first opportunity to coach as part of the first team under the management of Shaun Derry in 2018 as the assistant head coach. Bonner got the opportunity to coach on a full time basis following the departure of Colin Calderwood in March 2020.
Last season, Bonner’s first full season in charge saw Cambridge record two 0-5 victories in the first 10 games. That was a sign of things to come as Cambridge never really looked back, almost always placing in the top three, and finishing as the league’s highest scorers with 73 goals and having the fifth meanest defence conceding 49.
After a slight dip in form in the final matches, including a 5-4 loss to Harrogate in which to come back from 4-2 down before the Yorkshire club scored a 84th minute winner, but any lingering doubts of a slip into the playoffs were put to bed with a final day win at home to bottom club Grimsby.
Rock: Greg Taylor
Captain Greg Taylor was an ever present for Cambridge last time out and has made 344 appearances for Cambridge after his transfer from Luton in 2013 and played in the Conference play off final victory against Gateshead in 2014 marking their return to the football league. The 31 year old is a reliable if unremarkable player, and has been consistent for Cambridge over his eight years at the club.
This will be Taylor’s first season in his career that he has played in the third tier and it will be interesting to see if he can make the step up.
Cambridge fans will be hoping that Taylor can indeed make that step up and like key player Wes Hoolahan draw from his wealth of experience.
Key departure: Paul Mullin
Was there really any other option? I mentioned earlier about Cambridge being the top scorers in the league last season, a big reason for that? Paul Mullin.
Mullin smashed the record for most goals in a single League Two season, winning the golden boot and finishing thirteen goals ahead of his nearest competitors – Tranmere’s James Vaughan and Bolton’s Eoin Doyle.
Naturally, that brings interest from higher up the football pyramid, especially with Mullin’s contract being up at the end of the season.
Some reports indicated that Cambridge even offered Mullin the club’s biggest ever contract in order to keep him at the club, if that doesn’t signify Mullin’s importance to this Cambridge side then frankly, I don’t know what does.
Reports of interest numerous Championship and League one (including Argyle themselves) came in and it seemed a tug of war that was never going
Which is why it came as a shock to many that after breaking records the year before, Mullin had decided to drop below League Two and join Hollywood stars’ Rob Mcelhenney and Ryan Reynolds project at National League Wrexham.
Ultimately though, it didn’t matter where Mullin ended up if it didn’t mean signing an extension with the club.
Some comfort may be found by U’s fans in the suggestion that Mullin’s extraordinary season may just be a wild purple patch, after all the twenty six year olds best before this season, was a very average 9 goals with Morecambe, for 2015/16.
32 goals in any league season from anyone, anywhere though regardless of who they are and you have a pretty tough job replacing that.
Target: Avoid relegation
I didn’t really want to put this a target for anyone but the truth is after losing their key man in Mullin, they have at the time of writing failed to add any signings of note in that area, or any area on the pitch for that matter.
The signing made so far that will be most known to regular readers of this site is Plymouth born defender, who on paper does not have the greatest record in this division.
Aside from that young striker Sam Smith on a free transfer from Reading and Right Back George Williams joining from relegated side Bristol Rovers along with a series of young players on loan seems to be the extent other done so far by Mark Bonner’s side.
I would really like to be wrong about this prediction, but currently the target for Cambridge seems to be about not undoing the good work of last season.
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