There was a time when Exeter were considered a bit of a bogey team for us. We’d lost 7 of our past 8 league games against them, we seemed to play them three or four times a season without much success, and there’s still the matter of the 2008 Conference Play-Off final, which some U’s fans still haven’t gotten over.
But times are a-changin’ at The Abbey, and last season we somewhat controversially put them out of the FA Cup, and we’ve also broken some pretty big hoodoo’s these past couple of years, so was there much hope in CB5? The answer was not really, Exeter arrived having scored 12 times in their 3 games this season, conceding only once. 7 of those goals came on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup, and they were hitting form nice and early in the season, carrying on that which had propelled them to promotion last season.
Bonner went with a strong XI, no real surprises in the starting lineup, and a bench packed with attacking talent. The question on everyones lips was how early would he use the subs though, having left it late against Oxford.
The game kicked off in sweltering heat, and if we’re perfectly honest; United didn’t start well. We struggled to get ourselves in the game, and former U Jevani Brown was leading Exeters attack and pulling all the strings. He had an appeal for a penalty turned down after 30 minutes, going down after a clumsy but soft Okedina challenge when he’d have been better off staying on his feet.
Ten minutes later Sam Nombe outmuscled Lloyd Jones in the box, nicking the ball and crossing for Jevani to slot home from a few yards out. An uncharacteristic mistake from Jones, and a sucker punch for United, who despite being second best were doing enough to contain Exeter from being too dangerous.
As the teams came out for the second half it took both sides a short while to get going, but it was United who were looking the stronger side, and their reward came on the hour when Sam Smith rose to head in a George Williams cross and put the game level.
This time Bonner decided to make subs early, with Dunk and Brophy making way for Haunstrup and Shilow Tracey, with Tracey in particular causing no end of problems with his pace and intelligent decisions down the wing. Fifteen minutes later Harvey Knibbs made way for Jack Lankester, and he showed what we know he can do by combining with Haunstrup and Tracey, outpacing a couple of Exeter defenders and whipping in a cross for Paul Digby in his 100th appearance to nod home and send the Abbey into raptures. In front of the NRE, Dimi Mitov celebrated wildly by running over to the Main Stand and fist pumping ecstatically, and in front of the South Stand there were cupped ears aplenty as the U’s players celebrated.
A long period of additional time followed, partly caused by the drinks break mid-game, partly caused by the Fourth Official not bothering to put up the injury time board, and United continued to drive forward looking for a third before Bonner wisely bought Liam O’Neil on to calm things down a bit (not something you’d normally find us saying). Exeter were throwing everything at the U’s goal, including their goalkeeper for two consecutive corners, but luckily we held on for an impressive win.
We go to Portsmouth next, and Bonner has promised changes, United finally enjoying a squad with some kind of depth which he hasn’t really had since he took over back in 2020. That’s not going to be an easy game either, but we got something there last season and there’s no reason why if we play like we have done we can’t surprise them again.
Man of the Match: Ironside ran his socks off for that team and did everything but score, but we’re giving it to the man of the moment, on his 100th game for United, and the best central midfielder we’ve had since Paul Wanless (sorry Tommy Champs) Mr Paul Digby.
Soundtrack of The Match: Kanye West – Gold Digger