Colchester United take a one goal advantage into the Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg at Exeter City.
The U’s pulled off a 1-0 win against the Grecians when Cohen Bramall’s stunning free kick arrowed into the top corner with just eight minutes left to play.
The home side just had the better of the play and will feel deserved winners heading into the second leg at St James Park on Monday.
The U’s kicked off in an empty JobServe Community Stadium for the first leg of the League Two Play-Off Semi-Finals having not kicked a ball competitively in over 100 days.
Both sides took their time to get into the game, tentatively getting back into their stride.
Aaron Martin was the first to have an effort on goal, as Exeter looked for an early breakthrough. His header from an eighth minute corner sailed over Gerken’s bar and into the South Stand.
The U’s edged the best chances of the first half from then on, with Nouble looking hard to handle when he was on the ball.
His drive down the right flank was rewarded with a corner after some neat play to beat two away defenders.
Cohen Bramall was next to go close for the U’s when his dipping and swerving free kick tested Lewis Ward in the away net. Courtney Senior won the foul initially five yards outside the area, with Bramall’s effort needing to be tipped over the bar.
Bramall was also looking like a menace on the left wing, and the U’s were unlucky not to have their noses in front with twenty-seven minutes played. Bramall fizzed a cross in to the speedily arriving Harry Pell who had the ball deflected away at the last moment.
The first change of the game came when Lee Martin took a knock with five minutes of the half left to play. He was replaced by Matt Jay, who instantly brought himself into action with a couple of fine touches in front of the so-far solid Colchester United back line.
Exeter City also saw the first player to take a yellow card of the tie, when Nicky Law was cautioned. Courtney Senior was sprinting into clean air down the right wing with only a cynical tackle from the Exeter man stopping him.
The sides went into the break goalless, and with the U’s just edging the better chances of the half.
It was the second half where Colchester United seemed to come alive.
Courtney Senior showed a spark of what was to come nine minutes into the second period when his effort whipped over the crossbar with Ward worried.
A minute later, Harry Pell picked out Luke Norris at the back post with a searching cross. Norris’ header across goal was accurate but no U’s player was there to meet the ball as the Grecians were able to clear.
The home side had to be on their guard though, with Eastman showing the defensive prowess of the back four, when his perfectly timed tackle stopped Matt Jay from pulling the trigger in a dangerous area.
Luke Gambin came on for Senior with twenty minutes to play along with Theo Robinson for Luke Norris and both had an instant impact with the eleven on the pitch. Robinson twisted and turned in the area with his pass laid back into the area of no oncoming U’s player.
Gambin’s effort floored Pierce Sweeney when his powerful drive was heading into the bottom corner with less than fifteen minutes on the clock.
With just eight minutes to play, the U’s found got their breakthrough.
Cohen Bramall netted his second spectacular free kick of the season when from a tight angle he found the top corner. Ward may have gotten a fingertip to the ball, but there was no stopping his effort from giving the U's a goal advantage.
Exeter tried to push for an equaliser late on, but found themselves coming up short against a resolute U’s defence, with Prosser and Eastman holding firm in the centre, with Jackson and Bramall mopping up anything out wide.
The full time whistle blew with the U’s holding a slender advantage heading into Monday’s second leg.
Colchester United will travel to St James Park on Monday night trying to hold on to the lead they have built and looking to book a place at Wembley for the first time in twenty-two years.