United made it three league draws in a row as they came from behind to claim a point at Exeter this afternoon. Trailing to a contentious early opener from Graham Cummins, the U's hit back through a superb move that saw Callum O'Dowda notch his first senior goal and earn his side a share of the spoils.
United couldn't have made a worse start when Cummins clipped a ball over the top for a suspiciously offside-looking Alex Nicholls in just the second minute. The striker tapped it round the advancing George Long and was tripped, allowing Cummins to step forward and plant the penalty past Long for a third-minute opener. No doubt it was a penalty, but it looked offside in the build up.
It was now all about character and belief and thankfully United took just 13 minutes to atone for that opener. With a new-look 4-4-2 shape, the U's were relying on strike duo Danny Hylton and debutant Tyrone Barnett to gel quickly and they did link up in the seventh minute as Hylton headed into the path of Barnett, only for the on-loan Peterborough man to skew his shot horribly wide. They were also relying on the two wide men, Joe Riley and O'Dowda, to get beyond the home defence and on 15 minutes they combined perfectly to level matters up. Riley did brilliantly out on the right to power past his man and whip in a magnificent cross for O'Dowda to ghost in at the far post and finish a fine move with a simple finish for his first senior goal for the U's.
Exeter came back and forced Long into two good saves in the 23rd minute but the marauding Barnett almost got in on goal on 28 as his first touch took him clear from a Newey pass, only for a desperate late lunge to nick the ball away from his boot.
Forget the league standings, there was plenty of good football on display as the game went end to end throughout the first half. United almost made it 2-1 on 38 when an O'Dowda corner was flicked on by Newey and volleyed goalwards by Mullins, only for it to smack straight into the gloves of 'keeper Christy Pym six yards away. At the other end, two headers fizzed wide of Long's right-hand post but otherwise United had recovered well from the opening salvo and created enough chances to be in front at the break.
Both sides tightened up after the break, although Long needed to save a Grimes shot on 56 and Barnett's toe almost guided a Hylton header past Pym on 65. Barnett did enough to show that he will be a danger up front, while Michael Collins on his return to the side added plenty of composure and probing passes as the U's began to exert late pressure. Barnett was slightly too early on to an O'Dowda cross on 68 and top edged a shot over the bar, but Exeter's most dangerous moments came on the break and a swift surge on 71 forced Long into another good save as he got down sharply to push a Sercombe shot round the post.
That followed United's 11th corner of the afternoon, which perhaps tells a story on its own.
The Grecians applied some late pressure, soaked up by the stubborn Riley, Wright, Mullins and Newey, and with the exemplary Hylton still running hard up front the U's looked just as likely to find the winner; Collins slamming an 85th-minute volley over the top as they pushed forward once more.
In the end, two sides without a win between them were perhaps always destined to draw but it wasn't for want of either effort or invention. The commitment and effort was there from both sets of players and that first three-point haul can't be too far away for either club.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher
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