Up and running Cambridge United aim to ramp up momentum with back-to-back Sky Bet League One wins this weekend as they take on Exeter City at St James Park…
Fresh from cancelling out a three-match losing streak, the U’s approach the tie in a top half mix and will look to continue their upwards trajectory against the Grecians, who sit four points and places behind in the table following a run that has seen them win just twice since mid-September.
A pitch inspection for the game has been called for 2pm on Friday, due to the freezing temperatures over the past week.
How to Watch
Over 200 ardent U’s fans have already committed to making the pilgrimage down to Devon on Saturday afternoon, with proceedings kicking off at 3pm. If the pitch inspection is passed and the game looks set to go ahead, tickets will be available from St James Park on the day of the game.
Starting out in 1901 as St Sidwell’s United, the hosts have plied their trade at Saturday’s venue ever since and earned their Football League bow in 1920 following 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 successive promotions between 2008 to 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 when Matt Taylor put things right via the play-offs in 2021/22. Last time out, a respectable ranking of 14th saw them comfortably avoid the drop – matching that would make for a super achievement given their current fight.
Under the tutelage of former Wigan Athletic defender Gary Caldwell – who only recently started cutting his teeth as a manager – he’s built a strong connection with the club since arriving in October 2022. Becoming settled with a 3-4-2-1 system, goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo has become dependable with some strong performance – eight clean sheets so far is an applaudable record. That’s thanks to a settled back three of Pierce Sweeney, Cheick Diabate and Alex Hartridge, with wing-backs Dion Rankine and Zak Jules chipping in to help and spearhead attacks at the same time. Former non-league man Reece Cole should partner the experienced Tom Carroll in the middle, who allow loanee Luke Harris to thrive in the final third and combine with Jack Aitchison. 19-year-old Sonny Cox has led the line of late, whilst James Scott and ball carrier Yanic Wildschut offer extra dimensions from the bench.
Early form indicated another campaign of consolidation for Exeter, who grabbed four wins from their opening six – notably on the first matchday as they overpowered Wycombe Wanderers 0-3 and then grabbed a last-gasp 2-1 win vs Reading – with a stalemate against Blackpool and a slender defeat to runaway side Portsmouth. Victory against Cheltenham Town in mid-September lofted the side to the summit of the division, but form scuppered as they went a whole 13 matches without three points – accumulating three from a possible 39. Since Boxing Day, Caldwell’s men have won two, drawn once and lost twice, so form is certainly better, but languishing in 20th with a three-point cushion from the drop means vast improvement is a necessity.
Exeter City: WDLWL
Cambridge United: WLLLW
The U’s made a dramatic return to winning ways last time out as a late 2-1 victory over basement side Fleetwood Town sent the Cledara Abbey into raptures and got the ball rolling for 2024.
After an evenly-matched hour of football, where nothing could separate the sides, the encounter sprung into life during the latter stages as Lyle Taylor capped his debut by drawing first blood. Although Promise Omochere immediately levelled matters, the hosts kept plugging away and sealed it late in the afternoon as Sullay Kaikai showed great composure to rifle into the roof of the net.
Reflecting on the 90 minutes, Neil Harris admitted: “As much as it was ugly, today was about character and personality and when it went to 1-1 we didn’t go under, we responded. Ultimately, we could have scored two or three more goals after going back level. We found a way to win and that’s the most important thing.”
With the three-match losing streak now cancelled out, optimism is once again in the air that a push for the top half is on the agenda. Currently, the U’s are one of five sides who obtain 30 points, and with games in hand and just five points separating them from 10th, they’ll be quietly confident. The first thing to pinpoint is the away form – they’re after just their second success on the road and are striving to ensure that it happens on Saturday.
Exeter City Wins: 26
Cambridge United Wins: 32
Down Memory Lane
A familiar face, the sides met in the reverse fixture just shy of a month ago, with the U’s claiming maximum points in the festive clash with a well-deserved 2-0 win at the Cledara Abbey Stadium.
Coming out of the blocks firing, the reinvigorated hosts took an early lead through the in-form Gassan Ahadme – who found the back of the net for the fourth consecutive game after slotting home from the spot. Showcasing excellent attitude to control the game and then kill it off, Elias Kachunga made sure of the success late on with a clinical finish to increase the unbeaten run under Harris.
Speaking on that evening, the boss echoed: “I am pleased for everybody. To see the ground full, to see the connection between the terrace and the pitch and to see fans enjoying watching their team, it’s fantastic… Nobody is getting carried away – we know how we got here but we have set our standards now.”
From over 70 head-to-heads dating back to 1970, form has swung a plethora of times, with United currently enjoying a decent record against the Grecians. On top of hunting the double for the 2023/24 season, they will also look to claim a fourth win from five – with the sole defeat coming back in February 2023 at this weekend’s venue. A tricky face to visit, it’s been six defeats in a row at St James Park, with the last triumph tasted back in October 2016 when a rapid start, courtesy of goals from Luke Berry and Harrison Dunk, saw the U’s hold on for a 1-2 win.
Referee: Scott Simpson
Assistant Referee: Marvyn Amphlett
Assistant Referee: Andy Bennett
Fourth Official: Adam Ricketts