United were beaten at home for the first time this season as Exeter City showed their promotion credentials this afternoon. The U’s hit back from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 at one stage before a killer fourth goal and a late red card for James Constable condemned them to a 4-2 defeat in a pulsating end to end game.
As with the last league game United went behind early on, this time in the eleventh minute. Having committed men forward the U’s were caught on the counter and the evergreen Jamie Cureton and strike partner John O’Flynn were suddenly two on two with Jake Wright and Michael Raynes. Cureton kept running, Wright rightly backed off hoping for help to arrive but as Cureton reached the edge of the box he still had the space and time to drill a deadly accurate shot into the top left corner with Ryan Clarke left with no chance.
United came back strong with Adam Chapman and Jake Forster-Caskey seeing a lot of the ball in the middle as Exeter, in unfamiliar sky blue shirts, dropped deeper and relied on the lively O’Flynn and Cureton to spring forward when the time was right. The danger was always there though against a well drilled Grecian side who doubled their lead after 26 minutes.
That crucial second goal was controversial in the build-up but a well worked set piece in its execution. Clarke appeared to have stopped a deflected ball from crossing the line for a corner, even taking his hands off the ball to show that the whole ball had not crossed the line. However Assistant Referee Robert Ellis was unconvinced and signalled for a corner. There was a dreadful inevitability about Scott Bennett then reaching the well-flighted dead ball first and throwing himself forward to power a header home and make it 2-0.
United toiled in the blazing sunshine and tried their best to break down the visitor’s well organised defence but things just weren’t quite clicking for the Yellwos, best exemplified right on the break as Smalley’s fierce drive from the left wiped out Potter en route to goal and dribbled away harmlessly for a goal kick.
Another Smalley piledriver on 47 almost got United back into the game straight after the break, only for Artur Krysiak to get down well and push it round his right hand post, and had that gone in who knows how the game would turn out. Instead it was Cureton again who tormented the U’s, scampering clear in the 50th minute down the left hand channel, storming into the box then knocking the ball past Clarke to make it 3-0 despite Clarke getting a hand to the shot.
If United were going to get anything out of the game thery needed to hit back quickly and on 54 minutes they gave themselves a chance as the ever willing Batt burst into the box and was tripped by Craig Woodman. Ref Simpson, certainly not a Homer, pointed to the spot and Forster-Caskey assumed responsibility to slot the ball past Krysiak and make it 3-1.
Game on, and on 63 it was game totally alive as United made it 3-2. Chapman floated the ball to the far post where the newly arrived JP Pittman did well to keep the ball in play and head the ball back across goal. Potter and a defender reached the ball at the same time but to our eyes it was Potter who got the decisive touch, perhaps on a ricochet, to score his second in successive games and bring the game to life once more.
They should have levelled the game on 67 as Pittman once more headed a deep ball back across goal but Smalley, falling backwards, timed his header wrongly and planted the ball well wide of the mark.
Once again, ‘what might have beens’ abound, but five minutes later United were two goals behind again as the Grecians earned their win. O’Flynn was a nuisance to the United back line all afternoon and on 72 won a tussle with Jake Wright to get in one goal once more. The angle was tight but he somehow found the accuracy to drive the ball across Clarke and into the far corner to make it 4-2 to Exeter and surely this time kill off a pulsating game.
Constable, only on the pitch for eight minutes at most, was booked for backing into a defender, possibly leading with an elbow, and then a couple of minutes later collided with another defender and conceded a foul, compounding the matter with some advice aimed at the same linesman who had been involved in the second goal. Mr Simpson showed a second yellow, swiftly followed by a red card.
There was still time for Potter to clip a right footed effort just wide of the left hand post but Exeter were too canny to let the ten men back into the game and United’s brave comeback was not to gain any reward.
Clarke, Batt, Raynes, Wright, Capaldi, Chapman, Heslop (Craddock 55), Forster-Caskey, Potter , Smalley (Constable 74), Rigg (Pittman 60)
Brown, McGinty, Leven, Boateng,
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Report by Chris Williams