FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Thursday's League Two play-off semi-final second leg between Exeter and Carlisle.
Exeter v Carlisle| Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports
Sunday’s League Two play-off semi-final first leg between Exeter and Carlisle had it all; a six-goal thriller, two teams playing frenetic, attacking football and going hammer and tongs to win with plenty of controversy thrown in for good measure.
Exeter saw two goals controversially ruled out, hit the post in stoppage time and chucked away a 3-1 lead in the final 20 minutes as they went for the jugular. They could be forgiven for feeling down on their tedious six-hour coach journey home.
Head coach Paul Tisdale replaced left-back Woodman with striker Reuben Reid, switched to three at the back in the hope of killing the tie on the counter-attack. But the move only allowed Carlisle more space on the flanks, an area that all three of the Cumbrians’ goals arrived from.
Tisdale’s urged his Grecians squad to forget about Sunday's match and put all of their focus on Thursday's return at a sold-out St James's Park. But with only three sides suffering more home defeats this season, I’m not rushing to support City on this occasion.
The hosts started the campaign with a horrific injury crisis, a heavy load of misfortunate and some rotten results. Exeter even made their worst home league start in their history and whilst their season took a dramatic turn for the better in November, there are still chinks in their armoury.
The Grecians (in)ability to deal with Carlisle’s aerial raids on their penalty has been a constant source of frustration for Tisdale and with St James's Park’s smaller pitch dimensions coming into play, we should expect another direct approach from the visitors here.
Keith Curle’s charges have subjected City to aerial bombardment in all three meetings this term, using the wings to whip a number of crosses into the box from the ever-impressive Nicky Adams and pacey Reggie Lambe. Sunday was arguably the best Exeter have coped with this, but they still shipped all three goals from balls into the box.
With muscular striker Jabo Ibehre expected to be fit and striker Shaun Miller itching for a start from the bench, Carlisle have options going forward capable of hurting Exeter’s defence, as well as the long-throw weapon they’ve used successfully already this season.
I’d certainly be backing the Cumbrians to get on the scoresheet. Their hosts have kept a sole clean sheet in 18 and Carlisle should be well prepared having bypassed the arduous 350-mile coach journey by flying down from Newcastle on Wednesday.
Goals on the agenda
However, I’ve also little faith in Curle’s group shutting Exeter out. Carlisle have silenced their opposition only twice since October and with the hugely-talented EFL’s young player of the season Ollie Watkins leading the Grecians line, another high-scoring and entertaining encounter is forecast.
Watkins isn’t the only shining light in City’s squad; David Wheeler has found the net in four of his last six league appearances and Jamaican attacker Joel Grant produced arguably his best display in an Exeter shirt on Sunday, having a hand in all three of his side’s goals.
The betting angle
Like the first leg fixture and the two regular season meetings, this is likely to be a Beauty and the Beast type showdown. The flair and panache of Exeter against the hustle, bustle and muscle of Carlisle but one thing should be for sure – goals.
Rather than take sides here – I do feel Exeter are the more likely to progress – I’m going to back the 20/23 (Coral) on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score. It’s comfortably banked in all three previous games between the pair as well as 12/22 (55%) of the duos respective home/away matches against top-half teams.
Exeter v Carlisle – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (20/23 Coral)