Cambridge United were punished by a ruthless Exeter City side who took their chances to prevail 2-0 at St James Park.
After a tight first half, goals from Ryan Bowman and Randell Williams saw the U’s rue missed goal scoring chances of their own as the Grecians clinically claimed the three points.
United made four changes with Dimitar Mitov returning in goal and Leon Davies, Harrison Dunk and Luke Hannant moving back into the starting eleven.
The latter had strong shouts for a penalty waved away by referee James Oldham inside the opening five minutes, when the U’s midfielder tumbled to the floor in the Exeter 18 yard box and was adamant the challenge by Jayden Richardson was a foul.
The U’s continued to push in the early stages of the game though, winning a series of set pieces deep in the Exeter half that had the home side back pinned into their own 18 yard box for much of the opening ten minutes.
Calderwood’s men edged the play right through the midway stage of the first 45 minutes, with Mitov largely untested by their high flying opponents and picking up a continuous stream of set pieces. It was becoming a question of whether United could make one stick. The closest they came though was when Harry Darling caught a glimpse of goal with a header seven yards out from a Dunk corner, but the centre back glanced it off target.
The Grecians only really looked a threat twice, first when Lee Martin was found in enough space inside the U’s area to let fly on a slam goalwards which grazed the outer netting on 25 minutes, and then second when the same man got in behind the U’s back four but was closed down quickly by Mitov in first half stoppage time.
The U’s were unfortunate not to break the deadlock five minutes after the break, when George Maris broke through the middle of the field and played Knibbs in on the right with the striker cracking a shot across goal that had Maxted beaten but struck the foot of the post.
The Grecians struck soon after when Nicky Law got round the outside of United’s defence and pulled a pass back for Ryan Bowman to tap in at close range.
Leon Davies picked out a good run from Liam O’Neil through the centre of the Exeter box on the hour mark, but the midfielder headed over the top with United trying to battle and find a goal that would level proceedings again.
Law flashed a shot across the U’s goal and Archie Collins fired over the top soon after which would have made United’s task a great deal more challenging, but Calderwood’s men kept themselves in the game to give hope to the travelling 86 away supporters of a point to travel back with.
Chances were still falling the U’s way though and when Knibbs battled well to pinch possession high up field on 70 minutes, he laid it off for Smith who in turn squared it to O’Neil, but the midfielder got his angles all wrong and prodded a golden opportunity wide.
Paul Lewis also couldn’t capitalise when the ball fell at his in the six yard box after a Davies cross had caused the Grecians problems, but like O’Neil he failed to find the target, dragging a shot across goal with what proved United’s best chance.
They were punished for the missed opportunities eight minutes from time, when a delivery into the U’s area was failed to be cleared and Randell Williams nicked possession before smashing a finish beyond Mitov to end the U’s hopes in the encounter.
Exeter City: Maxted, Sweeney, Martin, L.Martin (Randall, 90 mins), Law, Williams (Chrisene, 90 mins), Bowman, Parkes, Richardson (Moxey, 78 mins), Taylor, Collins
Cambridge United: Mitov, Davies, Taylor, Darling, Dunk, Maris, Lewis, Hannant (Norville-Williams, 88 mins), O’Neil (Jones, 88 min), Knibbs, Smith (Dallas, 76 mins)
Attendance: 4,517 (86)