Carlisle United’s dogged defensive display earned a vital three points, despite Exeter City being in control for the majority of the match. Lewis Alessandra’s eighth-minute opener was the only goal of the game, gave the Cumbrians back that winning feeling that has been missed in the long layoff.
Coming into the game, United hadn’t beaten the Grecians for eight games, home and away. This run stretched back to the 2016-17 season, where both teams were locked in a promotion battle.
United hadn’t played since the second of January when they won two-nil away to Walsall. There were three changes to the line-up that faced the Saddlers; in came Jon Mellish, Nick Anderston and new signing, Offrande Zanzala.
Matt Taylor made three changes from City’s two-nil loss to Morecambe midweek. Jökull Andresson came in to start in goal, while Matt Jay and Jack Sparkes bolstered the attack.
It was the home side made the brighter start, Alessandra’s long-throw fell to Joe Riley on the edge of the box. However, the former Manchester United youth product sent a wild half volley over the bar.
Two minutes later, a similar situation arose. Another Alessandra throw dropped outside the area, but Callum Guy showed poor composure to fire the ball into the Waterworks End.
United broke the deadlock in the eighth minute through the former Plymouth Argyle playmaker, Lewis Alessandra.
Alessandra got on to a delightful chipped ball from Jack Armer; he then sent a low cross which found Omari Patrick. The electric winger twisted to find space and sent a flighted ball to the back post, which Alessandra cushioned into the back of the net.
United continued to put City under pressure, with Lewis Alessandra’s long-throws causing chaos in the Grecians box. The number nine launched another throw into the area, but Patrick, this time could only slice his volley over the bar.
Exeter started to play some neat stuff and almost scored on the 41st minute. Rhys Bennett’s low header hit the back of a United player and fell to Ryan Bowman, but he sent a powerful shot into the Warwick Road end.
United went into the break with a slender one-nil win.
Exeter City continued their possessional dominance in the second half and had a penalty shout. Nicky Law went down under pressure, but Referee, Martin Coy turned away appeals.
On the 56th minute, City had the ball in the net through Ryan Bowman.
A long ball after a Grecians corner found Pierce Sweeney, who had plenty of space but chose to pass to Nicky Law. His scuffed shot fell to Bowman at the back post and tapped in.
After what seemed an eternity, the Linesman put his flag up to deny City a coveted opener. There were not many protests from the Exeter camp, so it seems this was the correct decision.
United themselves, had the ball in the City net a couple of minutes later. A Kayode long-throw saw Anderton challenge Andresson for the ball, which the Icelandic keeper dropped; Anderton hooked the ball in, but Coy had already signalled for a free-kick.
Exeter City were trying to force their play and were lucky they weren’t punished after, Alessandra got on to a loose pass in the City half. Fortunately for the Grecians, the false nine could only fire over the bar.
City had numerous set pieces and opportunities, but the delivery from those by Nicky Law and Jack Sparkes was dreadful.
Aaron Hayden was fantastic in his defensive work and was unlucky not to win the man of the match award.
The game finished with United holding on to seal a strong defensive victory, against a team that has troubled United over the various seasons.
Chris Beech will be delighted with the win under the recent circumstances, with a long COVID break, which will have taken a lot out of the team. United have a run of tricky fixtures and will face Forest Green at Brunton Park on Tuesday.
Exeter City will be disappointed they didn’t at least get a point, this shows that they need more conviction in front of goal, if they want to challenge the playoffs. The Grecians travel to Stevenage on Tuesday night hoping to get out of their stagnating run of form.
MOTM: Callum Guy