Nichols goal separates the sides at St James Park
Cambridge United were unable to claw back a first half goal from Tom Nichols and clinch a point against a resolute Exeter City side, who took the spoils at St James Park.
An early first half goal from the hosts was enough on the night, despite the U’s throwing all they had at the Grecians in an attempt to level the game.
Following United’s 2-1 win over Northampton Town four days earlier at the Abbey Stadium, Richard Money selected the same side to start the game at St James’ Park, with Matt Lowe the only change on the bench replacing Danny Burns.
Despite a steady start from the U’s, it was the hosts who opened the scoring on 10 minutes when a long cross field pass from Exeter captain Danny Butterfield found Tom Nichols, who cut inside and then out to evade Alie Sesay and work space to finish past Sam Beasant in the bottom right corner.
Several waves of Exeter attacking play followed with Nichols and David Wheeler in particular both proving tricky customers for Richard Money’s side. However the U’s did just enough defensively to weather the storm, keep the Grecians at bay, and ensure the deficit remained at one.
Cambridge’s first opening fell to Barry Corr on 20 minutes when the Irishman was the recipient of a well-placed cross, cut back by Ryan Donaldson, but the U’s top goal scorer was unable to turn his effort on target.
Corr again came close to levelling for United with nine minutes to play in the first period, when he latched on to a weak back pass from Grecian’s defender Jordan Tillson. However, Exeter’s goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik saved his teammate’s blushes moments later by hammering the ball into Corr which rebounded wide of the mark.
Manager Richard Money introduced Luke Berry and Jordan Slew to the game after the break, in an attempt to turn the positive possession his side had enjoyed during the latter stages of the first half into an attacking threat.
Mickey Demetriou came closest of anyone to pegging the scores back level after the hour mark, when his shot from the edge of the 18 yard box was blocked on the line by Jordan Tillson.
Slew then missed a golden opportunity from close range drilling over the bar from seven yards, after Corr laid down the perfect pass with his head from Demetriou’s deep cross.
The U’s persisted to push forward in search of the equaliser. A quick succession of shots from Slew and Berry weren’t quite enough to get the better of Bobby Olejnik in the Exeter goal with 15 minutes to play.
Despite a late push from Richard Money’s side the hosts held on to their lead until the final whistle, to clinch the points.
Cambridge United: Beasant, Taylor, Sesay, Taft, Demetriou, Donaldson, J.Hughes (Newton, 79 mins), L.Hughes (Berry, 45 mins), Dunk, Simpson (Slew, 45 mins), Corr
Exeter City: Olejnik, Butterfield , Noble, McAllister, Ribeiro, Holmes (Alex Nicholls, 86 mins), Moore-Taylor, Nichols, Wheeler, Tillson, Grant
Goals: Tom Nichols (10 mins)
Attendance: 2,883 (123 away)