Cambridge United fell to a comprehensive 2-0 defeat on the road in Sky Bet League One as Exeter City claimed the points at St James Park...
A well-taken header from Archie Collins in the first half gave the Grecians the momentum to kick on after they break, which they did through Kevin McDonald, whose long-range strike consigned the U’s to successive defeats.
Ahead of the matchup in Devon, the hosts had endured a four-match winless run and were without a victory on home soil since mid-November. Therefore, the U’s - who were sitting in 23rd - would hope to capitalise by making an immediate return to winning ways and reduce their current two-point deficit from safety.
For the fourth game in a row, Mark Bonner opted with an unnamed side as the same XI that fell to a late midweek defeat at Fleetwood Town was selected. An addition to the matchday squad saw Shilow Tracey make a return from knee tendonitis.
Looking to instil some fear into the Grecians defence, the early flick-ons from Joe Ironside were a promising outlet as it forced the first corner of the game on the 6th minute - the men in red and white had to see off numerous U’s crosses as they tinkered around the area.
Immediately after getting their body on the line to deny McDonald and Harry Kite’s attempt, City recycled the ball and Pierce Sweeney picked out Collins with a menacing delivery which the midfielder headed home from close range on the 17th minute.
The visitors’ defensive resolve was tested again on 23 when Demitri Mitchell’s teasing cross forced James Brophy to clear his lines with a vital defensive header before the following corner was met by Will Aimson who headed inches wide of Dimitar Mitov’s right post.
Two minutes later, Gary Caldwell’s men carved open United with a defence-splitting pass to Collins, who scampered towards Mitov but the Bulgarian showcased reflexes to deny and then protect Sam Nombe’s light header on the rebound.
Bonner’s men found the back of the net shortly after the half an hour mark after Conor McGrandles cross was directed into the goal by the head of Brophy at the far post, but the attempt was ruled out for offside.
Craving the equaliser to take into the break, a McGrandles free-kick on the 44th minute resulted in pinball in the six-yard box, with the men in sky blue blasting over the crossbar.
The last kick of the half caused havoc when Mitov performed a vital save from Collins in a one-on-one, before Mitchell’s shot was blocked off the line by McGrandles. Jay Stansfield picked it up and nestled into the net from a matter of yards but it was ruled out for a foul. In truth, the visitors were fortunate to be just a goal behind.
Better from the get go, McGrandles fired over the bar and Brophy jinked into the box before pulling the trigger, which Gary Woods gathered down to his right.
They were dealt with a mountain to climb on 54 when McDonald picked his spot down the left and fired a well-struck curler into the corner from distance.
The goalscorer almost killed the game off in the 70th minute when he executed a clean volley from 20 yards, but L. Bennett was on hand to bravely head behind for a corner.
United ringed the changes from here, with a total of five players being introduced, but they couldn’t trouble the Grecians’ defence and had to continue digging deep to prevent a heavier scoreline as they stumbled to back-to-back defeats.
The U’s now have a week to recuperate before they welcome Portsmouth to the Abbey Stadium next Saturday (4th March) – be sure to back the boys and be the difference as they battle for the League One points.
Exeter City: Woods, Key, Sweeney, Aimson, Hartridge, Mitchell (Caprice, 84), Kite, McDonald (Chauke, 86), Collins (Grounds, 90+2), Stansfield (White, 86), Nombe
Subs Not Used: Blackman, Coley, Scott
Goalscorers: Collins (8’), McDonald (54’)
Cambridge United: Mitov, Morrison, R. Bennett, Jones, L. Bennett (Tracey, 73), Digby (O’Neil, 73), McGrandles (Williams, 77), Brophy (Haunstrup, 78), Lankester (Worman, 78), Smith, Ironside
Subs Not Used: Mannion, Okedina
Referee: Robert Lewis
Attendance: 6400 (248 away fans)