So… is this what we are now? Is this what we’re going to do for 46 games? Concede two really bad goals through individual errors and then spend 60 minutes panting and gasping to try and pull it back? Because, if it is, I truly can’t be bothered. I also can’t be bothered to continually write the same match report, I may as well just start copying and pasting the same tedious paragraph:
“The U’s started strongly, with Ibehre, Halliday and Jevani all looking threatening. A poor defensive header from George Taft gave the hosts the lead, and minutes later another glaring error, this time from Dimitar Mitov, put United further behind. Even though the U’s gave it everything in the second half, the introduction of David Amoo and Barry Corr on 60 minutes wasn’t enough to bring them back into the game this time.”
There you go, just re-read that a few times or something. It’s a pretty extensive summary of what actually happened on the night.
This was, at its core, a massively frustrating evening. Let’s start by giving United credit where it’s deserved. Firstly, Joe Dunne didn’t let us roll over in the second half, and his three substitutions were exactly the ones everyone wanted to see; attacking, offensive and aggressive, a world away from Shaun Derry. Secondly, on the night, there were long spells where the U’s dominated the game; constant danger from a combination of Halliday, Amoo, Jevani and Ibehre did cause Exeter problems at times, culminating in United’s two biggest chances of the game – a nicely worked move resulting in O’Neil’s skewed shot into the side netting, and Dunk’s tame effort into the keepers hands on the break after an unstoppable run by George Maris.
Maris, again, also showed why a move a few divisions higher wouldn’t have been an intimidating step for him. He hustled and harried in the middle of the park, originally as a deep-lying playmaker and then in a more advanced role, finding himself at the centre of every decent United attack on both wings and on the edge of the box, chasing down every ball and never letting it lie. He is a real asset at this level, and one we will do well to keep hold of when January comes around.
But, for all of this, we continue to commit glaring defensive errors, and unfortunately, again, in my eyes we deserved to lose here. Exeter might have taken the lead through no particular quality of their own, but in the second half they continued to press and passed the ball around with ease, finding space everywhere they went and eventually hitting the woodwork twice.
The shortcomings of this team were clear before a ball was even kicked: a lack of decent options up top and at central defence. 13 goals conceded and 5 scored in 5 games – that tells you exactly where the two problems are. And it was clear here. For all our effort and enthusiasm to try and get back into it, we just simply were not as good or as clinical as Exeter up top, and a grade below in dealing with their strikers. For all the effort and skill that David Amoo and Barry Corr bring to the fold in the second half, it is futile if the game is lost by that point.
It’s not losing that worries me (after all, this is last season’s losing play-off finalists) – it’s that the same mistakes are continuing to occur, game after game. I’m sure Mr Dunne is standing on Clare College sports ground right now, straining to eradicate every ounce of mistake that this squad has in it, but it might just be the sort of thing that takes time, and once the back line has become more of a cohesive unit they will wash away naturally.
But let’s also make this clear: that might be the toughest start to the season in the league, and to come out of those four games with four points might look bad on paper, but once you assess the quality of the opposition it might not be that significant. This all rests on the caveat that we now go and make the most of the next three games; Cheltenham, Stevenage and Carlisle are all very, very winnable games, and will clearly show exactly where this United team is at relative to the strength of the league.
To end, you could have saved yourself a lot of time reading my dribble if you’d have just read my one paragraph report at the start. I did tell you.