EVEN Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner admits he has been left stunned by striker Paul Mullin’s sensational start to the season.
The 25-year-old made it ten League Two goals in just seven games when he netted a hat-trick in the U’s 3-1 home win against Port Vale in midweek, a result which kept them top of the table.
Indeed, Mullin had netted seven times in three games heading into yesterday’s tasty clash against Bolton, who were expected to field another League Two sharp-shooter in Eoin Doyle.
Doyle became widely known as the ‘Ginger Pele’ for his goalscoring feats with Swindon last term and U’s fans may have to think up a nickname of their own for red-hot Mullin if he keeps hitting the target.
The former Morecambe, Swindon and Tranmere forward is in the form of his life and snapping him up has proved a masterstroke by rookie boss Bonner.
The 34-year-old, who is making a big impression at the U’s helm, had a sneak preview of what Mullin could offer when the frontman scored twice in six games on loan from Tranmere before lockdown pulled the plug last term.
The Cambridge head coach told The FLP: “When we realised Tranmere weren’t going to extend his time with them, he was one we wanted to get in. He had done well on loan and we were delighted to get him.
“Regular football was something that he was craving and we were able to offer him that. We knew he could score goals if we created an environment for him to play at his best and he’s the first to give credit to the rest of the players, but we couldn’t have thought he was going to score that many goals so quickly. He’s made a blistering start not only in terms of goals, but also with his overall game.”
Shrewd recruitment has clearly been a factor in Cambridge’s fine start to the campaign. Former Norwich and Republic of Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan, 38, has added his class to proceedings on the pitch and Bonner believes the capture of Gary Waddock as assistant manager has also been a huge plus.
While Bonner says his own playing days were not at ‘any level worth talking about’, midfielder Waddock enjoyed a fine career before going into management with the likes of QPR, Aldershot and Wycombe.
“Gary’s been a very important addition,” explained Bonner. “We were very clear we needed to add the right assistant in terms of character, qualifications, and experience that I didn’t have as much of.
“That experience and wisdom can rub off, but he’s also a hands-on coach as well. The more time we can spend with the players, the better. He’s been excellent for us.”
As for Bonner, he’s relishing the chance to manage his home-town club. He’s in his second spell with the U’s and has given them over a decade of service, working his way up from the academy ranks to the managerial hotseat.
“The opportunity came up a lot sooner than I expected, if it ever would,” admitted Bonner, who had a couple of spells as caretaker manager. “When you get offered opportunities in life, you have to try to grab them with both hands and that’s what I’m trying to do. I was really proud to have been selected to lead the club.”
As for whether he will need to revise his expectations for the season bearing in mind their flying start, Bonner plays it like a wily veteran.
“No, not at all,” he insisted. “What we set out to do was create a competitive team and a team that would score more goals. We have signed good players and are building a good team.
“I believe we can be relatively successful, but we aren’t setting any targets. It’s early doors and it’s too early to say we are contenders. We have a lot of progress to keep making.”
JOHN LYONS / Title image: PSI