Cambridge United step into a busy Christmas schedule in Sky Bet League One with a Friday night clash under the Abbey Stadium lights against Exeter City…
The U’s will be hoping to consolidate their high spirits by extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to four games, whereas the Grecians – winless in 12 league matches - are desperate to generate some momentum and take a leaf out of the hosts’ book by rekindling their goalscoring touch.
How to Watch
Tickets for Friday night’s encounter – which gets underway at 7:45pm – are still available to be purchased either online at cufctickets.com, over the phone on 01223 566500 (option 1) or by visiting the Abbey Stadium Ticket Office.
The festive fixture will be played out in front of a bumper home crowd, with the Newmarket Road End and Intelligent Membranes South Habbin both sold out and the Buzz Catering Main Stand due to sell out ahead of kick-off.
Starting out in 1901 as St Sidwell’s United, our visitors have plied their trade at St James Park ever since – first playing host to Football League action in 1920 after an invitation to join. A stable outfit fluctuating between the Third and Fourth Division throughout the decades, the Grecians found themselves in the Conference Premier at the start of the millennium, but back-to-back promotions between 2008 and 2009 saw them rise to the third tier. Most recently, they were very much part of the League Two furniture, but their 10th attempt paid dividends as Matt Taylor put things right in the play-offs in 2021/22. Last time out, a respectable ranking of 14th saw them comfortably survive the drop – matching that is the task now for this crop.
At the helm is 41-year-old former Celtic and Wigan Athletic defender Gary Caldwell - who has only recently started cutting his teeth as a manager - but has grown to know the club well since his October 2022 appointment. He tinkers with his formation on a frequent basis, but could stick with the compact 4-5-1. Finnish goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo, on loan from Aston Villa, has tallied up six clean sheets from 19 starts, with an extremely settled back four of Zak Jules, Alex Hartridge, Cheick Diabate and favourite Pierce Sweeney ahead of him. Youngster Ryan Trevitt is the creative man in the middle, whereas former Hayes & Yeading United man Reece Cole will hope to retain his place alongside him. Previously a young U before departing for Chelsea, Dion Rankine is a silky option on the right wing, with summer signing Ilmari Niskanen likely to be on the other flank. Attacking threat Jack Aitchison is usually a nailed starter, but his suspension paves the way for the experienced Yanic Wildschut or Sonny Cox to make their mark.
Early form indicated another campaign of consolidation for City, who in their opening six games grabbed four wins – notably an opening day 0-3 success at Wycombe Wanderers and a last-gasp 2-1 win vs Reading – with a stalemate against Blackpool and a slender defeat to runaway side Portsmouth, which at the time put them in pole position. A devastating late loss to Leyton Orient was backed up by a 1-0 victory against Cheltenham Town at St James Park, but a heavy defeat to Oxford United was the beginning of a winless rut which is currently at 12 games. Three points and goals from a possible 36 means Caldwell and co are languishing in 20th, but boast a three-point gap from the drop and will hope to enter Christmas in contention to climb.
Cambridge United: LLWDW
Exeter City: WLDLD
The U’s breathed life into their campaign and look to have turned a corner after completing a morale-boosting 2-1 comeback success over play-off contenders Blackpool at CB5 last time out.
An early spell of pressure from the Tangerines saw them draw first blood through marksman Jordan Rhodes’ header, but the hosts showed excellent desire to turn the game on its head courtesy of Elias Kachunga’s finish and Gassan Ahadme’s penalty, before navigating a late dismissal well to return to winning ways.
After securing his first win at the helm and terminating a five-match streak without a win, Neil Harris stated: “Credit goes to the players. I must praise the players, because it’s not always just about shape, it’s about discipline, desire, and ultimately it’s about personality and character to get three points and we showed that today.”
It put to an end an alarming run of just one win in 14 games, with the response from the defeat to Lincoln City under a month ago an impeccable one. A first victory since late October – and their first comeback triumph since Boxing Day 2022 – means a corner could very well have been turned, with the U’s also finding their goalscoring touch after plummeting eight from their previous three games.
Cambridge United Wins: 31
Exeter City Wins: 26
Down Memory Lane
It was a tricky day out in Devon when the sides pitted their wits last time out, as a February encounter saw United fall to a comprehensive 2-0 defeat.
A well-taken header from Archie Collins in the first half gave the Grecians the momentum to kick on after the break, which they did through Kevin McDonald – whose long-range strike consigned the visitors to successive League One defeats.
Ranging back to 1970, we’ve met a total of 70 times, with United slightly edging the results. Recent from reads back-to-back home triumphs against Exeter, with their only three wins from their previous 14 all coming at CB5. A repeat of the 4-0 dismantling in October 2019 would certainly go down well, where a breath-taking display saw Luke Hannant, Jack Roles, George Taft and Andrew Dallas all get on the scoresheet.
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Assistant Referee: Andrew Aylott
Assistant Referee: Alan Cresswell
Fourth Official: Marc Wilson