EXETER CITY – 1
CAMBRIDGE – 0
PAUL Tisdale pointed to his side’s aggressive streak as a defining factor as Exeter shrugged off fears of a play-off hangover thanks to Reuben Reid’s early strike.
The Grecians powered into the play-offs last season despite being bottom of the table in November, only to see their promotion hopes dashed with defeat by Blackpool at Wembley. But Exeter got the new season off to the perfect start as they combined a slick attacking display with a resolute rearguard action to secure a deserved win. Exeter manager Tisdale said: ‘The three points come first and the performance was certainly in a bracket that warranted a result.
‘We were very committed, quick to the ball and aggressive with our approach.
‘It was full-blooded and we got the early goal. We would like to have gone two up, but we expected the onslaught and there were some big defensive performances out there.
‘Pierce Sweeney made a brilliant challenge under the crossbar to preserve our clean sheet. That was as good as a goal.
‘We need to keep the tone and vigour we had last year which got us into the play- offs.
‘There was a comment be- fore the game that we have lost some players, but we don’t feel that. We feel we have developed and have players that are stepping in and, as always, we will look to our young players. The team is different, but it was a good performance all round.’
Exeter were gifted a third minute penalty when Jake Carroll, under pressure from David Wheeler, foolishly handled Jordan Moore Taylor’s raking ball into the box. Reid’s casual penalty was easily saved by David Forde, but the striker gobbled up the rebound to ram the ball home from close range.
Exeter swept forward in pursuit of a second and when Brown arrived at the back post to meet a Lloyd James corner with a header, only a last gasp block by Leon Legge denied the defender. From Craig Woodman’s resulting corner, Wheeler ghosted into the box and watched a glancing header come back off the post.
Two comical errors in quick succession almost led to a goal at either end in a breathless start to the match. First Legge fluffed a clearance and the ball ended up spinning into the hands of keeper Forde. And then Exeter keeper Christy Pym made a hash of his clearance before redeeming himself with a save at his near post to foil Luke Berry.
The hosts were carving out chances at will and Liam McAlinden latched on to James’s pass but headed wide when a volley looked the better option. McAlinden was the archi- tect of the next flowing move, darting forward before Wheeler’s deft touch gave James a clear sight of goal. But the midfielder fluffed his lines, ballooning the ball over the bar when he should really have hit the target.
Cambridge went close to grabbing an equaliser on 32 minutes after Berry sent powerful striker Jabo Ibehre racing into the box but he flashed the ball past the far post. Berry tested Pym with a long-range strike, while at the other end Pierce Sweeney unleashed a thunderous long-range shot which fizzed over the crossbar. Cambridge boss Shaun Derry made two changes to his side at the break in a bid to breathe fresh life into his faltering front line. But it was the Grecians who continued to carry the greater threat and McAlin- den latched on to Reid’s pass before scooping the ball over the bar.
Exeter piled on the pressure and McAlinden’s curling effort was repelled with a smart save by Forde’s right boot. The game entered a lull in terms of goalmouth action until Uche Ikpeazu swept to the by line and cut the ball back for Berry to blast a volley over the crossbar.
Cambridge grew in confidence and Medy Eliot wriggled his way to the by line before Pierce Sweeney came to the rescue with a crucial clearance in front of his own goal. It would prove a decisive moment as Exeter dug deep to hang on to the three points.