A last-minute goal from Sam Smith denied Exeter a victory at The Abbey in the first round of the FA Cup away at Cambridge United.
The result means Exeter will play Cambridge in a replay at St James Park in order to get through to the second round.
Exeter City manager Matt Taylor made three changes to the side that fell to a 2-0 defeat away at Bradford last Saturday, as Matt Jay, Nigel Atangana and Alex Fisher replaced Lee Martin and Nicky Law, while Jake Taylor dropped out due to suspension.
It was the home side that started the brighter, with Kyle Knoyle influential in the opening 15 minutes – first winning a dangerous free-kick on the right-hand side that City did well to defend, before delivering a deep cross that- thankfully for the Grecians – evaded the Cambridge players.
City grew into the game, and Nigel Atangana released Randell Williams down the City right, and although his cross was cleared, the ball fell to Craig Woodman – the left-back’s audacious effort on the half-volley flew over.
Williams was a constant threat and his cross on the half-hour mark was nearly converted by Ryan Bowman, but for a spectacular interception that meant the home side conceded a corner, and not a goal. But City’s pressure would soon pay dividends – Matt Jay drove down the left wing, and though his initial cross was cut out, Cambridge couldn’t clear and Alex Fisher profited, picking the ball up and firing into the left-hand corner for his first City goal.
Fisher’s goal would prove to be the only real chance of note in a first-half defined largely by defensive strength; both sides were quick to recover possession and the City back five of Woodman, Parkes, Martin, Sweeney and Williams proved impenetrable in the opening 45.
Immediately after the interval, City nearly doubled their lead as the flight on Randell Williams’ cross nearly deceived Callum Burton, but the Cambridge goalkeeper was able to readjust and push the ball over his own crossbar. It was the start of a run of pressure from the Grecians that culminated in Aaron Martin’s header from a corner that rolled narrowly wide.
A defensive mixup after 54 minutes nearly gifted the hosts a route back into the game, but eventually Martin and Parkes were able to clear the ball under pressure. City had to weather a storm that produced little by way of clear chances – Maxted marshalling his defence effectively – before City would come close again, as Williams fed Matt Jay – whose shot was palmed away. Ryan Bowman would go down in the box after 65 minutes, but the referee waved away appeals for a City penalty.
Tom Parkes would be called into action again, winning a free-kick off Cambridge’s Sam Smith just as the latter looked to be in on goal. It was a spell of immense pressure that City narrowly survived; substitute Harrison Dunk was on the end of a well-worked move though his acrobatic effort was wide of Maxted’s goal.
Burton was on hand to rush out of his goal and prevent Bowman from doubling City’s lead after Fisher’s incisive pass with 15 to play, as City’s forward line led the charge from the front. Substitutes Ben Seymour and Lee Martin nearly profited from an error from Burton, but Cambridge recovered in numbers and won a free-kick to end the danger.
Just as it looked like City were home safe, Sam Smith fired a low shot through Jonny Maxted to equalise in the last minute of the game to take the fixture to a replay.
CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Burton, Knoyle, Jones (Knibbs 75), Taft, Taylor ©, O’Neil (Lambe 63), Maris, Richards, Smith, Lewis, Ward (Dunk 64).
Subs not used: Mitov, Dallas, Darling, Davies, Knibbs.
EXETER CITY: Maxted, Sweeney, Woodman, Atangana (Tillson 78), A Martin, Williams, Bowman (L Martin 78), Parkes, Jay, Fisher (Seymour 82), Collins ©.
Subs not used: Visser, Moxey, Sparkes, Chrisene.
Attendance: 2303 (179 Away)