FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Sunday's League Two play-off semi-final first leg between Carlisle and Exeter.
Carlisle v Exeter | Sunday 18:30 | Sky Sports
Carlisle spent over 22 weeks of the season in the automatic promotion places but a W2-D4-L7 return from mid-February saw the Cumbrians enter the campaign’s conclusion needing a victory to secure a top-seven spot.
The win required arrived against Sunday’s opponents Exeter but it wasn’t straightforward. Trailing 2-1 at half-time, manager Keith Curle said a half-time rocket was unleashed on his players in a bid to elicit a response.
Indeed, for the second occasion this season, Carlisle came from behind to secure late 3-2 triumphs against the Grecians, two of seven League Two encounters where the bounce-back kings have turned defeats into triumphs.
Last weekend Tom Miller’s long throw and Nicky Adams’ wonderful deliveries caused Exeter problems at the back and Curle’s penchant for bombarding the opposition penalty area with balls from the flanks looks set to continue here.
Reason to be with Exeter
The question is, can Exeter cope this time around? Boss Paul Tisdale has been typically coy and quiet in the lead-up to the trip to Brunton Park and even asked his players not to talk to the press as City prepare for their first ever bash at the Football League play-offs.
Exeter’s play-off place was already confirmed before their last loss to Carlisle and I’d be amazed if Tisdale gave his hand away. With a fully fit squad at his disposal, including the return of Craig Woodman and Matt Oakley, the Grecians could well spring a surprise in selection of system.
It’s been a fabulous campaign for the Devon club. Tisdale was under intense pressure six months ago with the club battling against relegation. Coincidentally, the Grecians went bottom of the league the last time they played at Brunton Park in November, illustrating how far this side have come.
Exeter finished fifth but have really flourished on their travels, winning 13 times (W13-D3-L7). Only West Country rivals Plymouth accrued more points in games as guests and whilst the 350-mile trip is slightly off-putting, I’m happy to invest my faith in City avoiding defeat here.
The visitors are excellent when they stay compact and hit teams on the counter-attack – a style of play that has particularly paid dividends when they have been ahead and on the road. And with Exeter only firing blanks in six away days all season, you’d fancy them to make their mark.
The betting angles
Exeter can be backed with a +0.25 Asian Handicap at 4/5 (188BET) – this selection would provide profit should Tisdale’s troops avoid defeat. A half-stakes pay-out would be bagged if the game ends all-square with a full-stakes profit made should the visitors collect a first leg win.
I’m also going to snap up the 7/10 from Sportingbet on Both Teams To Score. Despite their prowess in picking up positive results on their travels, Exeter have still conceded in each of their last nine and Carlisle should be capable of getting on the scoresheet should Jabo Ibehre be passed fit.
Shaun Miller and James Bailey are on standby for Ibehre whilst Jason Kennedy is expected to return to the fold for the Cumbrians who’ve recorded a sole clean sheet at Brunton Park since October and managed only six victories in 23 outings in 2017.
The departure of star striker Charlie Wyke in January damaged the side’s bid for a top-three finish and although results and performances haven’t completely recovered, there’s enough flex in the Carlisle attacking muscle to believe they can play their part in another enthralling encounter between these two hopefuls.
Carlisle v Exeter – Both Teams To Score (7/10 Sportingbet)
Carlisle v Exeter – Exeter +0.25 Asian Handicap (4/5 188BET)