The Hatters hit seven goals – or more – for the third time this season as Cambridge United became the latest side to suffer at the hands of Nathan Jones’ clinical attack at Kenilworth Road.
The goal-hungry Hatters moved back into the Sky Bet League Two automatic promotion spots with a stunning 7-0 victory over the U’s, who saw a hatful fly into their net, just as Yeovil had when Jones’ side won 8-2 on the opening day, and Stevenage in the 7-1 here last month.
After Dan Potts had opened the scoring in the 24th minute with his fourth goal of the season and second in as many weeks, Danny Hylton hit a perfect hat-trick to move into double figures as joint leading scorer in the division and Elliot Lee – on his first league start of the season – netted two stunners to follow up his effort as a sub at Cheltenham.
But the older Lee brother, Olly, stole the limelight by producing a David Beckham-esque goal of the season contender for the Town’s second, seeing Cambridge keeper David Forde off his line and chipping him from 70 yards.
It was a strike that will live long in the memory of all 8,721 inside the Kenny on what turned out to be a wonderful afternoon of free-flowing attacking football.
Jones made two changes from last week’s 2-2 draw at Cheltenham, Elliot Lee making his first league start of the season in place of James Collins after coming on for the injured top scorer at half-time last week.
And returning to the starting XI in the league for the first time since 23rd September was midfielder Andrew Shinnie, although the Scot did start the recent Checkatrade Trophy and FA Cup wins over AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth, in place of Harry Cornick.
The Town’s first opportunity came inside the opening two minutes, Hylton meeting Potts’ peach of a cross with a glancing header that Forde got down low to his left to save.
Cambridge were lucky not to have Liam O’Neil booked for a late challenge on Shinnie, moments after Gary Deegan had done the same, and it was the midfielder who had their only effort of note in the opening half, heading Piero Mingoia’s cross well wide.
The Town could have taken the lead after a fine passing move down the right that began with Alan Sheehan winning two massive tackles deep in his own half, and ended with Elliot Lee cutting in from the wing and seeing a shot deflected wide.
From the resulting corner, captain Scott Cuthbert volleyed towards the top corner and Forde produced another save from the top drawer to keep the scoreline blank.
Elliot Lee was looking extremely lively, and after a great turn on receiving the ball 35 yards from goal, the forward drove at the Cambridge box once more, only to see Forde get down low to save.
The Town were playing some incisive attacking football and Cambridge survived another scare, and a second shout for a penalty, when Potts and Glen Rea had efforts blocked in the six-yard box.
The breakthrough finally came in the 24th minute and it was Potts, pinching a goal on the line after Hylton had tricked his way to the left byline and teed Shinnie up for a low right-footed shot that was heading into the bottom corner, slowly after a deflection, who got the emphatic final touch.
Potts had the ball in the net again two minutes later, meeting Sheehan’s left-wing free-kick with a thumping downward header that bounced up into the stanchion, only for an offside flag to cut the Town’s celebrations short.
It was two in the 30th minute, and what a strike it was from Olly Lee. The midfielder could well have been in a different post code to where the ball finished up when he won a tackle 25 yards from his own goal, after good closing down by his brother Elliot.
The older Lee strode forward, and seeing Forde way off his line, drilled a wonderful shot from inside his own half, and just outside the centre circle, that gave the former Portsmouth keeper no chance.
Hylton had his goal in the 35th minute, when Luke Berry – playing against the club he left in August to join the Town – drove at the Cambridge defence and the ball fell to Hylton in the box. The striker didn’t need a second invitation to rejoin Collins as the joint leading scorer, slipping his left-footed shot under Forde for 3-0.
Three minutes into time added on it got even better, as Hylton chipped a superb pass into the Cambridge area and Elliot Lee – who’d had a superb half – produced a sumptuous finish, as the ball dropped over his shoulder, on the volley into the top corner.
Into the second half and Hylton was hungry for more, sending a shot from 25 yards just wide in the opening couple of minutes of the second half, but the Town soon suffered a blow when captain Cuthbert was forced off injured, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu coming on in the midfield holding role with the excellent Rea dropping into the back four.
As Cuthbert was carried around the Oak Road end on a stretcher to great ovation from the home fans, Berry looked to get on the scoresheet from distance – firing high into the Kenny End – before Shinnie rattled the outside of Forde’s post from 25 yards at the end of another great move down the right.
Stech was called into action for virtually the first time when he had to tip a cross over his bar just after the hour, but the Town were dominating possession and in the 68th minute, Elliot Lee went looking for another.
Urged on by Jones on the edge of his technical area, Berry carried the ball deep into Cambridge territory and slipped the ball to Lee on the left edge of the area, but the striker’s curling effort was high and handsome.
Sheehan, now wearing the captain’s armband, brought the ball out of the back four and produced an exquisite pass with the outside of his left boot for Hylton to run onto, but on this occasion the Hatters striker’s shot was blocked before Forde fielded Stacey’s follow-up cross.
Second later, with 71 minutes on the clock, Stech had to make his first real save – a relatively simple on at that – as Jevani Brown had a crack from 25 yards.
But the Town were soon making all the attacking moves once again, and it was almost five when Shinnie produced a step-over just inside the box to beat his man, and his left footed curler was destined for the top corner, only for Legge to get back and head clear off the line.
Another brilliant move down the right produced the fifth goal in the 81st minute, Olly Lee feeding Stacey to cross low for Hylton to steer in number ten for the season, although substitute Jordan Cook and Elliot Lee were queueing up to ball in too.
Stech’s concentration levels were perfect again in the 83rd minute, dealing comfortably with a low shot from Brown, and three minutes later Elliot Lee was on the goal hunt again, tricking his way back from the right byline to send a left-footed curler just wide.
He didn’t have to wait long for his second of the afternoon, picking up the ball after a great touch inside by Stacey to Mpanzu, and lashing a fierce right-footed drive into the top corner from fully 25 yards for yet another fantastic finish.
What an afternoon!
It’s one defeat in 15 matches in all competitions now, and 31 goals in nine home matches as the Town prepare to entertain Carlisle United back here on Tuesday night.
Who’d miss it? See you here!
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert © (Mpanzu 53), Sheehan, Potts (Justin 79), Rea, O Lee, Berry, Shinnie (Cook 73), E Lee, Hylton. Subs: Mullins, Cornick, Gambin, Shea (GK)
Yellows: O Lee, Hylton, Shinnie
Goals: Potts 24, O Lee 31, Hylton 35, 81, E Lee 45+3, 88
CAMBRIDGE: Forde, Halliday, Carroll, Deegan, Taylor, Leege ©, Mingoia (Lewis 46), O’Neil (Osadebe 46), Maris (Amoo 46), Brown, Elito. Subs: Dunk, Taft, Mitov (GK), Davies
Yellows: Lewis, Brown
REFEREE: Nick Kinseley
ATT: 8,721 (642 away)