A first ever headed goal for Archie Collins and a screamer of a finish from Kevin McDonald secured a much needed three points for the Grecians, as City won their first home game since November with a 2-0 win over Cambridge.
After four games without a win, this was a must-win game for the Grecians and they did not disappoint. From the off City were the team on top putting constant pressure on the Cambridge back line, with Collins' effort and McDonald's first Grecian goal a just reward for the performance.
Gary Caldwell made three changes to the team that lost to Port Vale in the previous fixture, with Josh Key, McDonald, and Demetri Mitchell coming into the team to replace Rekeem Harper, James Scott, and Jake Caprice.
After an extremely slow start to the game, with 16 minutes on the clock the game exploded. For the first time in the half, Hartridge and Mitchell were able to combine down the left hand side with Mitchell’s ball finding McDonald on the edge of the area, but his effort was cleared to Kite who hit it on the half volley but again cleared away.
With Cambridge unable to clear the ball out from their defensive third, City were able to capitalise. Sweeney found himself with acres of space on the right-hand side and the centre half sent a looping cross to the back post and lurking there was Collins who smashed away a bullet header, leaving Dimitar Mitov no chance in goal.
Collins was the man causing all the issues out there for City, this time he was the one linking up play. After a marauding run down the left hand, he laid it back to Mitchell whose whipped cross was aimed for Key and Nombe at the back post, but Cambridge were able to clear away for a corner.
As the clock struck 35 minutes, Stansfield went on a mesmerising run down the right-hand side, going past five Cambridge players in doing so. Eventually he escaped the kicks and tugs from the defender and sent a ball into Sam Nombe, but the double-digit goal scorer was unable to find the back of the net.
As the half was nearing its end, Cambridge had their first effort on the City goal. A lovely ball into the box found Joe Ironside at the back post and the big number nine headed the ball past Woods. However, the assistants flag went up very quickly ruling the goal out for offside, much to the joy of the City faithful.
Right on the cusp of half-time and the U’s had another big chance. With a free kick in City’s defensive third, Cambridge floated the ball into the centre box and after pinballing around for what felt like an eternity, the ball fell to Cambridge player, but he lofted the ball over the bar high into the Big Bank.
One second before the final whistle and City found the back of the net for the second time in the game but a combination of the referee and his assistant ruled the goal out. Stansfield tapped in but the referee awarded a Cambridge free-kick, much to the bemusement of most inside St James Park.
The second half started very much the same as the first ended with City on top. Inside the opening five minutes of the second half, City had two massive shouts waved away by the referee. One was what looked like a stonewall penalty after Mitchell was upended by Bennett in the area and the second was a shout for a corner after Kite was through on goal and looked like a defender cleared it behind, but the referee adjudged that it was a goal kick.
Come the next attack and it was again City on the charge and that charge led to a second goal of the game for City. A well worked piece of play from Collins led to the ball finding McDonald just inside the penalty area and with a swing of his boot the Scotsman tucked the ball away into the top right-hand corner, leaving Mitov with no chance.
As the second half drew in on the 70th minute a corner from the left-hand side dropped out of the air onto the right foot of McDonald but the Scotsman was denied what would have been a goal of season contended by a header off of the line.
It didn’t stop there though, McDonald had another chance again from a corner dropping to the edge but this time United were able to clear their lines. Corner after corner followed with City putting efforts in on the Cambridge goal but the score stayed at 2-0 to the Grecians.
The next game for City is a trip east to Wycombe Wanderers for an all-important away clash on Saturday 4thMarch.
City: Woods, Key, Sweeney, Aimson ©, Hartridge, Mitchell (Caprice, 83), Kite, McDonald (Chauke, 86), Collins (Grounds, 90), Stansfield (White, 86), Nombe
Subs not used: Blackman, Coley, Scott
Cambridge: Mitov, Digby ©, Jones, Brophy, Ironside, Smith, Lankester, Bennet, Morrison, McGrandles, Bennett
Subs not used: Mannion, Okedina
Referee: Robert Lewis
Attendance: 6400 (248 away)