All eyes were on new loan signing Matt Crooks, but it was the support cast of Sean Maguire, John O’Sullivan and Piero Mingoia who stole the show for Stanley.
The attacking trio terrorised the Cambridge back four throughout, O’Sullivan in particular, and were instrumental in what turned out to be a convincing win.
The victory meant John Coleman’s men leapfrogged the U’s in the League 2 table and moved within four points of the play-off places.
Mingoia, recalled to the starting XI for the midweek FA Cup win over Notts County, justified Coleman’s decision with his first goal of the campaign on 34 minutes.
The midfielder doubled that tally in the second half, albeit with the aid of a fortuitous deflection. His place next week is now almost certain.
Michael Nelson’s 89th-minute screamer for Cambridge made for a tense finish, but Stanley held on to put their push for the play-offs back on track after the disappointing defeat at Carlisle.
“We had enough chances to win by a bigger margin,” said Coleman. “Cambridge are a good side so to perform the way we did was credit to our players.
“We sprung into life with a great goal by Piero. It was a good ball by Johnno and a great finish. Then Sean nearly scored the goal of the season. It was an unbelievable save.
“We got the second goal and I thought that’d be the platform to go and get three or four, so it was disappointing that it became uncomfortable in stoppage time.
“But I thought it was a smashing game. Both teams tried to play football, it was full blooded and played in a good spirit, so I’m delighted we got the win.”
Coleman opted for fresh legs after what he described as a “mentally and physically taxing” win over Notts County four days earlier.
Loanees O’Sullivan and Maguire were both recalled to join debutant Crooks, who started despite having only signed from Championship side Huddersfield on Thursday.
But the Reds started slowly, enjoying only brief spells of possession and doing little to test Chris Dunn in the Cambridge goal.
O’Sullivan dragged a shot wide from the edge of the area on five minutes, only for the U’s to break and cause problems of their own.
Top scorer Kwesi Appiah forced a fantastic save from Jack Rose only for Nelson to fire his free-header wide from the resulting corner.
The opening half-hour continued in a similar vein, with both sides creating and spurning half-chances.
“Tentative jabs”, that’s how assistant boss Jimmy Bell called it in the dressing room. But the sucker-punch soon followed.
Crooks held the ball up well on the left-hand side and neatly teed up O’Sullivan. His cross sailed past everyone but Mingoia, who ghosted in at the back post to slam the ball home from a tight angle.
Cambridge immediately looked for a response. Matty Blair drove straight at Rose after referee Richard Clark played a superb advantage, but the Reds soon seized control.
Dunn produced the save of the afternoon from Maguire. The striker cut inside on his right and bent the ball beautifully towards the top corner, only for Dunn to tip his effort onto the bar.
Mingoia was next to try his luck but the Cambridge keeper once again superbly saved. His ambitious effort from range took a wicked deflection off a defender, forcing Dunn to quickly readjust his body and flick the ball over the bar.
After the break, Stanley continued to push for a second. Maguire again tested Dunn and skipper Luke Joyce blazed Mingoia’s cut-back miles over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Crooks was then presented with a golden opportunity to grab a debut goal, but headed wide from Dean Winnard’s floated cross.
The best viewing was O’Sullivan and Cambridge full-back Greg Taylor’s individual battle down the Stanley right, of which O’Sullivan came out on top more often than not.
To the relief of the Reds’ supporters, the second goal did eventually come.
Dunn could this time only watch as the ball looped over his head and nestled in the back of the net from a deflected Mingoia strike. The points looked well and truly wrapped up.
As the clock ticked down towards full-time, Cambridge committed more and more men forward, but were met by some stubborn defending from Stanley centre-halves Tom Aldred and Rob Atkinson.
With 10 minutes remaining, Coleman replaced Crooks to rapturous applause, though most likely reserved for oncoming fans’ favourite Marcus Carver rather than Crooks, whose touch too often let him down during an indifferent debut.
Then, out of nowhere, Nelson popped up with an immaculate left-footed volley into the top corner of Rose’s net to add tension to a generously given five minutes of added time.
However, Cambridge offered little in the closing minutes and Stanley held on for what could prove to be three vital points in their steady resurgence under Coleman.
Stanley: Rose 7, Winnard 6, Aldred 7, Atkinson 7, Liddle 7, Mingoia 9, Joyce 6, Procter 7, O’Sullivan 9 (Molynuex 85), Maguire 8 (McCartan 80), Crooks 6 (Carver 79). Subs: Gray, Hunt, Naismith, Simpson. Attendance: 1364 (225 away).