Paul Mullin: Cambridge top scorer's tally 'outstanding', says boss

Paul Mullin has scored two or more in a game six times for Cambridge this season - four of them in a golden run of six goals in 10 matches in September and October
Paul Mullin has scored twice or more in a game six times for Cambridge this season - four of them in a golden run of 10 goals in six matches in September and October

Cambridge United top scorer Paul Mullin is one of the main factors behind the U's rise to the top of the League Two table this season.

His 22 goals in 32 games are bettered only by Brentford's Ivan Toney in the entire English Football League - and make him comfortably League Two's top scorer.

Mullin is now just two goals away from equalling his club's own scoring record in the 50 years since the U's were first invited to join the Football League in 1970 - the 24 goals netted by David Crown in the old Division Four in 1985-86.

It has been an astonishing transformation for the 25-year-old Liverpool-born former Huddersfield Town, Morecambe, Swindon Town and Tranmere Rovers marksman.

He had never before reached double figures in any league campaign. Nine was his previous highest tally. Now he has amassed more than double that - to leave him four clear of his nearest League Two rival, ironically the man signed to replace him at his old club Tranmere, James Vaughan.

"He joined us on loan at the back end of last season," Cambridge boss Mark Bonner told BBC Radio 5 Live. "And when we were able to sign him in the summer I was really pleased with that.

"We're playing in a way and have created an environment that helps bring the best out of him and we understand him.

"He'd be the first to credit everybody else for creating the chances for him but his return is obviously outstanding and he makes no bones about wanting to beat the club record.

"Any individual record along the way is reflective of our team's performance and we hope he does do it obviously, as it will help us, which is great."

If Mullin does take his chance to equal, or even surpass, that record at home to Scunthorpe United on Tuesday, it would be entirely fitting.

After being signed originally on loan in January 2020, two days after Tranmere had brought in Vaughan, he scored his first goal for the U's in a 2-0 win at Scunthorpe last February. And he got two more when the U's also won 5-0 there in September.

Paul Mullin's league scoring record

2014-15: Morecambe - 8

2015-16: Morecambe - 9

2016-17: Morecambe - 8

2017-18: Swindon Town - 6

2018-19: Tranmere Rovers - 5

2019-20: Tranmere/Cambridge - 5

2020-21: Cambridge - 22 (and counting)

League shutdown 'gave us time to plan'

Cambridge boss Bonner signed Mullin on loan from Tranmere just two days after taking over as caretaker boss following Colin Calderwood's departure.

His side played just seven games, winning four of them as Bonner was given the job on a more permanent basis until the end of the 2021-22 season - and then the league shut down.

The bizarre turn of events brought about by the coronavirus pandemic actually worked in their favour, admits Bonner.

"For the first six months we didn't play any games," he smiles ruefully, "It gave us time to plan."

Nine players left in June. And Mullin's signing, also only a one-year deal, kicked off their summer recruitment.

Nine more followed. And there were four more loan arrivals in the January window, as the U's aim to cement that automatic promotion spot - and the chance of a return to the third tier for the first time since the days of John Beck, Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge in the early 1990s.

After becoming caretaker boss on 29 January 2020, Mark Bonner was then given the job on 9 March until the end of the 2021-22 season
After becoming caretaker boss on 29 January 2020, Mark Bonner was then given the job on 9 March until the end of the 2021-22 season

For a local man like Bonner, himself a Cambridge fan, that would be the stuff of dreams.

"I'd worked in the first-team environment for a number of years," he said, "so this job was something I'd always aspired to achieve. It just came around quicker than I thought.

"I'm a local person but, especially in this year of all years, it made me quite suitable, as I'm understanding of all the limitations.

"My love for the club doesn't make me fanatical in my decision-making though."

And, with 14 games still to go, and only four points separating the U's from fourth-placed Tranmere, he knows not to get too carried away.

"This league is always tight," he added. "It's enjoyable to be in this position but you know how quickly things can change."

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