Trainee goalkeeper Nicky Weaver left his sick bed to star in Mansfield Town’s first away win in four months on Saturday.
With first choice Ian Bowling out with a thigh injury and fellow trainee Duncan Roberts having dislocated his shoulder 24 hours earlier, Weaver, who has just turned 17, answered the call.
And several fine saves from him coupled with another midfield virtuoso performance by John Doolan and first half goals by Chris Timons and Mark Sale proved enough to see off United.
Weaver did well to tip over Paul Raynor’s third-minute piledriver free-kick in a relatively easy first half when he had shown confidence and sound handling.
It seemed strange that Cambridge had not used the tried and tested ploy of clattering into the rookie keeper.
But Weaver did not have to wait long after the break before they tested his mettle. He was up magnificently to catch Carlo Corazzin’s right wing cross. But Paul Wanless arrived a couple of seconds later and flattened him.
There followed four anxious minutes for Mansfield as the youngster received treatment with the stretcher on stand-by. But he eventually got to his feet and had the last laugh with some more fine goalkeeping.
Mansfield, with four successive away draws behind them, started well on the sodden Abbey Stadium surface and Steve Harper, restored to the side in place of Ryan Williams after two months out injured, carved out a chance for Steve Slawson as early as the seventh minute.
But the striker flashed his 15-yard left-footed finish wide of the far post when he should have done better.
Stags continued to threaten and Scott Barrett had to save Harper’s far post angled volley before Stags went ahead on 21 minutes.
Cambridge failed to clear and corner properly which saw Doolan strike a vicious shot that deflected over for another corner.
United clearly had not learnt their lesson and when they again failed to clear their lines from the flag kick, Ady Boothroyd floated the ball back in and Timons flicked a header over the stranded Barrett.
Cambridge hit back with their best spell of the game and squandered three chances in seven minutes.
Wanless powered a header wide from Raynor’s corner, then Raynor shot straight at Weaver after Ady Boothroyd failed to cut out a long punt down field.
Raynor then drove a powerful shot which Weaver finger-tipped over the crossbar.
Having weathered that spell, Mansfield hit back in the best possible way with a second goal on 36 minutes.
Warren Hackett had been putting in some excellent crosses from the left and this one picked out Sale at the far post with unerring accuracy and he provided a neat headed finish.
Mansfield sat back on their advantage in the second half. And, for all Cambridge’s efforts, Stags still looked the more likely goalscorers on the break.
Doolan sent Ireland through but Barrett spread himself well to save, Hackett somehow volleyed over from one yard after meeting Ireland’s centre and, three minutes from time, Harper almost crowned an industrious comeback but saw his shot come back off a post.
Cambridge brought the best out of Weaver on 64 minutes when he dived to his left to turn Corazzin’s free kick round the post.
Boothroyd appeared to bring Danny Granville down in the box with a clumsy tackled on 70 minutes but the referee ignored Cambridge protests.
And Stags knew it was going to be their day when Craig Middleton slipped Corazzin in the clear on 77 minutes and, with Weaver at his mercy, he completely missed he target.
Report by John Lomas.