Cambridge United were edged out by Exeter City in a 1-0 opening day defeat at St James Park, despite a dominant second half display.
Reuben Reid’s early goal proved to be the deciding factor, with Jabo Ibehre and Luke Berry closest for United in the first half before long spells of pressure from the U’s throughout the second failed to provide an opportunity to level.
The U’s lined up with six changes to the side which began the final fixture of the 2016/17 season at Wycombe, with Gary Deegan, Jabo Ibehre and David Forde the only summer additions to enter the starting eleven.
United fell behind early, when referee Trevor Kettle awarded the hosts a penalty on two minutes following a hand ball by Jake Carroll. Forde was down quickly low to his left to save the initial strike from 12 yards by Reuben Reid, but the former Plymouth man followed up to guide the ball home.
David Wheeler was the width of the post away from doubling the Exeter lead, when the right winger beat his man to flick a header across the face of goal and crashing against the upright.
The U’s eventually settled into the game though, and when goalkeeper Christy Pym got his clearance all wrong on 16 minutes Luke Berry was close to punishing, when the midfielder pick pocketed the ball from the keeper who recovered in time to push the ball of the line.
Berry was at the heart of a breakaway United move on 28 minutes which ended with Jabo Ibehre missing out on his first competitive goal for the U’s, when the striker’s shot dribbled tantalisingly wide from an awkward angle.
U’s Head Coach Shaun Derry elected to change shape at the break, with Uche Ikpeazu and Medy Elito brought on in place of Mingoia and Maris.
However, it David Forde who was called into action first, flicking a boot at a shot from McAlinden to keep United in touching distance of the hosts.
Ikpeazu produced an impressive piece of skill shortly after the hour mark to get in behind the Grecian’s full back before pulling a cross back for Berry to volley on the penalty spot, but the effort fizzed over.
Harrison Dunk was brought on as United’s final change to bring further attacking intent and the U’s strongest period of game followed, with the hosts pinned deep in their own half.
A jinking run from Medy Elito late on pierced a hole in the Exeter defence but his cross was blocked with Uche Ikpeazu lurking with intent inside the six yard box, bringing a close to United’s charge.
Cambridge United: Forde, Davies, Legge, Taylor, Carroll, Mingoia (Ikpeazu, 45 mins), O’Neil, Deegan (Dunk, 70 mins), Berry, Maris (Elito, 45 mins), Ibehre
Exeter City: Pym, Sweeney, Woodman, James, Tillson, Wheeler, Moore-Taylor, McAlinden (Harley, 63 mins), Taylor, Reid (Brunt, 78 mins), Brown
Attendance: 4,282 (318)