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Match Reports

Report: Exeter City 0-0 Cambridge United

20 January 2024

Match Reports

Report: Exeter City 0-0 Cambridge United

20 January 2024

The points were shared at St James Park as Cambridge United played out a goalless draw against Exeter City to add to their Sky Bet League One tally and register their tenth clean sheet of the 2023/24 season…

Fresh from cancelling out a three-match losing streak, the U’s approached the tie in a top half mix and were looking to continue their upwards trajectory against the Grecians, who sat four points and places behind in the table following a run that saw them win just twice since mid-September.

Following on from the dramatic success against Fleetwood Town the week before, Neil Harris opted with the solitary change to his XI as he rewarded Lyle Taylor with his first start for the club - who replaced Jack Lankester. As for the bench, Brandon Njoku retained his place in the matchday squad and was joined by fellow Academy graduate Greg Sandiford, who was named in the 18 for the first time.

After the Devon surface was deemed suitable to play as a result of a lunchtime inspection, the encounter commenced in a fast-paced manner, with the hosts forcing three early corners which were all dealt with professionally.

Their first foray into the penalty area was generated by the front-footed Jack Aitchison, who drove towards an angle with tenacity and flashed a delivery across the face of goal which evaded everyone.

Looking to gain their share of momentum, the U’s probed with their wing play on two separate occasions on the 11th minute. First, Danny Andrew’s free-kick from the right was whipped with venom but well claimed by goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo, who again was on hand to catch Sullay Kaikai’s deflected cross seconds later.

Plugging away during a battling opening 20 minutes - where the hosts had seen more of the ball but lacked invention - United were doing the basics right defensively, with Liam Bennett particularly remaining physically resolute to deny crosses into the box on numerous occasions.

Remaining in the same vein, the Grecians were allowed to maintain heavy spells in possession, but the match was still awaiting that spark, with neither keeper called into action due to no shots being attempted at all.

All in all, there could be zero complaints with a scruffy stalemate at the break. Despite looking defensively fine, the U’s understandably needed to get hold of the game in the middle of the park and then gain that execution in the final third.

Immediately after the break, the encounter moved up the gears with a first attempt as Ilmari Niskanen teed up Yanic Wildschut inside the box, who turned and pulled the trigger at sliding partners Michael Morrison and Ryan Bennett, who valiantly blocked and cleared their lines. Play was recycled to Aitchison, whose speculative half-volley was straight down the throat of Jack Stevens.

Showcasing urgency, the hosts registered their second strike at goal on the 50th minute when defender Pierce Sweeney cracked a low, no-nonsense free-kick from just under 25 yards towards Stevens, who had to be really firm.

With the cards being dished out on a regular basis, the stop-start display from the U’s continued – they entered the hour mark unable to break out of their own half following a period where Exeter had certainly been in the ascendency.

Neil Harris’ men conjured up their opening chance on 60 when Paul Digby cushioned a header to Taylor from distance, whose crisp snap shot was ferocious but ultimately wide of Sinisalo’s right post.

Deadlock should have been broken on the 66th minute when Niskanen’s cross deep down the right fell invitingly to Sonny Cox in the six-yard box, who got across his man and directed a header inches over the crossbar.

With 70 minutes on the clock, the visitors put a string of passes together which resulted in Andrew dancing towards the area. The full-back’s strike was blocked and the rebound fell to Kaikai, but his first time shot towards the corner was met by a diving Sinisalo. If the U’s could grab it by the scruff of the neck, the match was there to be won, but the outfits were yet to blink first.

Five minutes later, substitute Dion Rankine weaved his way past several men in amber and, despite having options, pulled the trigger from a tough angle which Stevens got down quick to smother.

Bombarding the dangerzone, the Grecians forced pinball inside the area in the next attack, which was concluded by Tom Carroll’s close-range effort that cannoned over the woodwork.

Gaining momentum at an important time, United began to pester on the 82nd minute and almost added a sneaky opener when L. Bennett tested his luck by going for goal from a crossing position, which needed instinctive and important reflexes from Sinisalo to paw away for a corner.

Just after three additional minutes were confirmed, Exeter almost snatched victory when Rankine floated to Ben Purrington from a matter of yards out, who headed towards goal but was denied by the fingertips of Stevens, who valiantly ensured a point apiece on a battling afternoon.

Up next, United return to home comforts next weekend (27th January) when they take on Burton Albion – be sure to back the boys.

 

Exeter City: Sinisalo, Niskanen (Cole, 78’), Sweeney, Diabate, Jules, Purrington, Carroll, Harris, Aitchison, Wildschut (Rankine, 64’), Cox (Scott, 86’)

Subs Not Used: MacDonald, Aimson, Hartridge, Kite

Goalscorers:

Bookings: Purrington, Niskanen

 

Cambridge United: Stevens, L. Bennett, R. Bennett, Morrison, Andrew, Digby, Cousins, Kaikai, Kachunga (May, 77’), Brophy, Taylor

Subs Not Used: Mannion, Okedina, Ibsen Rossi, Janneh, Njoku, Sandiford

Goalscorers:

Bookings: Andrew, Taylor, Digby, Kachunga

 

Referee: Scott Simpson


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