United gave their supporters a Boxing Day boost with an excellent 3-1 win away at Exeter this afternoon. Two goals from the in-form James Constable and a typically well taken shot from Peter Leven earned the U's all three points despite a Jamie Cureton penalty to give the home side small consolation.
The U’s made the first opening after four minutes when a Leven free kick from the right found Liam Davis unmarked at the far post only for the left-back to misjudge the ball in the swirling wind and head the ball tamely wide.
They then came under sustained pressure from the home side for the next ten minutes, the only time they looked under any true pressure all afternoon. Jamie Cureton had two fantastic chances in that period with the first a free kick well saved by Ryan Clarke after six minutes and the second a thumping volley a minute later which smashed back into play off the crossbar, an early turning point in the flow of the game. Michael Raynes made a goal-saving block after ten minutes and then just as the grey clouds broke over the magnificent 314 away fans to soak them, so United turned the tide in front of them.
United’s one change had seen Lee Cox come in for the injured Adam Chapman in midfield, and it was Cox’s clipped ball into the box which swirled nastily in the wind for defender Danny Coles. Tom Craddock, sensing danger, made a nuisance of himself and the ball broke to Constable who thrashed the ball beyond keeper Artur Krysiak to make it 1-0 to the U’s. Five goals in seven games for United longest serving player, 88 in total for the club he loves, to put him just two behind legendary scorers Peter Foley and John Aldridge.
With Sean Rigg ripping right back Scot Bennett to shreds United were now well on top and on 25 should have been 2-0 up when Rigg raced clear once more and delivered a good ball in which Craddock volleyed over the bar. Moment later it was Alfie Potter on the other wing who launched another attack which ended with Leven rolling to Rigg whose cross teed up Constable once more, with his shot deflected inches wide of the right hand post.
It was a fast paced game to enjoy, with United’s now customary injury coming after 32 minutes as Liam Davis limped off to be replaced by Tony Capaldi. The Grecians had one more chance in the first half after 39 as an Alan Gow free kick flashed across goal and beyond two strikers at the far post, but otherwise had been well contained by Raynes and Wright after that opening ten minutes.
It was a compliment to United that the home side had to change formation to 4-4-2 at half time to try and stifle the danger down the flank from Potter and Rigg, but that move was undone within seven minutes of the second half. On 50 Craddock challenged Pat Baldwin for a Capaldi high ball but the defender made a mess of his attempted header back to his own keeper, only setting up Constable who was never going to miss, drilling the ball in for number 89 to make it 2-0.
Then two minutes later Christmas came 24 hours late as Constable headed a deep cross back at the far post which Rigg recycled to work the ball back to the edge of the box. Leven, of course, picked his spot and planted the ball into the far corner of the net with deadly accuracy to make it 3-0 after 52 minutes.
There was still drama to come and on 66 minutes it was 1-3 as the Grecians earned a penalty to breathe life into what had seemed a lost cause. A hanging cross to the back post left Batt to challenge Baldwin. The Exeter man seemed to pull Batt down, which meant his arm naturally came up. The ball brushed Batt's arm and ref Brendan Malone somewhat harshly pointed to the spot. Cureton sent Clarke the wrong way to score, and suddenly we had a match back on.
Josh Parker came on for a debut in place of the hard working Craddock, crossing dangerously with his first action and looking strong and fast, At the other end the excellent Clarke and his well drilled defence mopped up anything that Exeter threw at them,making sure that the anticipated late charge from the home side never really materialised after Cureton's goal. Indeed only a crucial touch by defender Woodman stopped Potter from tapping home Rigg's 86th minute cross after more good work from Parker.
An excellent win and well deserved. United now have four wins and four draws from their last eight games and are on a decent run at an important stage of the season.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by PA Sports