Alex Nicholls’ first goal in almost two years was the match-winner for Exeter City away at Cambridge United on Tuesday evening.
The game took a disappointing turn at the start for Exeter when Ryan Bird was on hand to stroke in from close range as the ball ricocheted around the six-yard box, but a second goal in two games from Graham Cummins
got the Grecians level less than ten minutes later.
City twice came within the width of the woodwork from taking the lead – David Wheeler
and Matt Grimes
both striking the upright – but Nicholls eventually gave the Grecians a lead midway through the second period, with a fine goal that turned out to be the match-winner.
Grecians boss Paul Tisdale named an almost unchanged starting XI from the weekend’s draw at home to Oxford United for the game at Cambridge United – midfielder Arron Davies
was the only new inclusion in the squad, with Christian Ribeiro
taking place on the bench and Pat Baldwin
again missing out on the matchday 18 with injury.
The hosts started brightly and Matt Oakley
, again playing in a centre-back position, did well to track a run of Bird and make a sliding interception to deny him a route to goal. Moments earlier Bird had taken a swing at thin air when a blocked shot by Kwesi Appiah had fallen into his path.
But with less than ten minutes played, the U’s did have their first goal – a low ball in from the right was touched on by Harrison Dunk – more by luck than judgement – and found Bird, who was tasked with the simple job of slotting past the exposed Christy Pym
The Grecians gathered themselves well and soon fashioned an equaliser of sheer quality. A good dissecting ball through the midfield from Matt Grimes
played in Alex Nicholls – he followed up with a perfectly-weighted slipped pass into the path of Cummins who controlled and hammered beyond Chris Dunn.
City continued to threaten and a cross from Cummins, who had drifted out to the left, was met on the volley by David Wheeler
– the shot from eight yards cannoned away off the meat of the near post.
The very same piece of woodwork then denied Grimes a goal – after Nicholls had been bundled to the ground on the edge of the D, the midfielder curled a left-footed effort around the post but it bounced clear off the inside of the post.
Exeter kept the tempo high throughout the first period and continued to pump balls into the danger-zone from the flanks, giving the U’s defence plenty to worry about.
Nicholls was the latest to test goalkeeper Dunn, but his shot from a central position outside the area as he drove goalwards lacked the power to beat the stopper.
Half-time: Cambridge United 1 Exeter City 1
An injury sustained by captain Scot Bennett
just before the break meant for an enforced change at the start of the second period – Ribeiro was the man to take to the field in a straight swap.
Exeter began the second period in confident mood and continued their high-tempo approach. A beautiful interchange inside the U’s box almost resulted in a fine team goal, only for Wheeler’s shot to be blocked at the last.
Cambridge still held a threat though – it was goalscorer Bird that wound up a shot from 25 yards that needed strong fists from Pym to keep out. After the ball bobbled about, he had a second bite of the cherry but nailed fractionally over the bar.
But Exeter got the goal which their impressive forward play merited midway through the second period as they capitalised on a momentary lapse from the U’s defence.
Issa Diallo was caught in possession just outside the centre circle in his own half, and Cummins laid the ball wide for Nicholls – he kept drifting wide to the left before dragging a shot beyond Dunn, creeping in off the far post.
Nicholls and Cummins in particular were linking up well high up the field and allowing Exeter to hold the ball in the hosts’ half.
Sercombe also pinched the ball high upfield and opted to crack an effort towards goal after seeing space open up, but it didn’t have the power to test Dunn.
But City kept their heads cool under increasing pressure and earned a hard-fought first win of the 2014/15 campaign.
Full-time: Cambridge United 1 Exeter City 2Cambridge United:
Dunn; Lanzoni (Hurst 46), Coulson, Nelson, G.Taylor; Tait (Stockley 87), Donaldson, Diallo, Dunk, Appiah (B.Taylor 63), Bird.
Subs: Norris, Austin, Whittall, Lennon.
Goal: Bird (8).
Pym; Wheeler (Butterfield 75), Bennett (Ribeiro 46), Oakley, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Grimes, Davies, Sercombe; Nicholls, Cummins (Nichols 90).
Subs: Hamon, Keohane, Noble, Tillson.
Goals: Cummins (17), Nicholls (65).
Attendance: 3,266 (155 away).
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh