Carlisle Utd draw another Brunton Park blank as Exeter take the points
Carlisle United 0 Exeter City 1: Since Carlisle United scored five goals in 77 minutes at Crewe they have mustered one more in six hours of football. League Two's top half, and a greater sense of faith, will be beyond them until they sort this issue out.
At Brunton Park especially, the Blues are sterile. It is one victory from eight there in all competitions in 2017/18, and even though they rained crosses into Exeter's box in the last half-hour on Saturday, it is now three blanks in a row at HQ.
In isolation you could say United threw everything at the fourth tier's top team and came up short by the margin of a crossbar and a few other near-misses. True. Carlisle's toils at home, though, are not in isolation.
It is a long time since their stadium has been forbidding to other sides. A popular statistic doing the rounds is that they have only sent their own supporters skipping back down Warwick Road after victories three times in this calendar year.
That is an unacceptable total as autumn starts to nip. United have found a measure of form on the road but it is dangerous to rely on that continuing indefinitely. A further little cluster of Brunton Park fixtures is approaching, after next weekend's trip to Colchester, and somehow Keith Curle and his players must find a better way.
"It's coming," the manager said. "Somebody's going to get turned over at Brunton Park." Exeter, although not scintillating, were too capable to be this theoretical victim, defending deeply and doggedly after Pierce Sweeney's header had put them in front.
United, in response to that shabby set-piece goal, were persistent and territorially strong once Curle had added Jamie Devitt, Reggie Lambe and, latterly, Jason Kennedy from the bench. There was a stage when you felt they might indeed conjure one delivery enough to get a point out of Paul Tisdale's leaders.
They didn't, though, and this after an earlier period when they had not been able to introduce enough craft into their performance. There are different ways to be toothless but when the end result is the same, one wonders whether the solutions are inside the building or whether external help is needed.
It is a lot to chew on for supporters who, understandably, will give more attention to this topic than some of the positives from Saturday, like Gary Liddle's strong performance at centre-half. Liddle filled Tom Parkes' void excellently but falling to 16th after a dozen games won't set many fireworks off overall.
As before at home, United started reasonably but we were kept waiting for the killer moment. Exeter, as per Curle's prediction, were more direct than in past seasons, Jayden Stockley and Reuben Reid a physical tag-team that will test most defences, and the opening stages saw some lively sparring before things evened out.
Shaun Miller was first to have a serious go for Carlisle, denied by Troy Brown's block. Danny Grainger then cracked a shot close after a short corner, before Mike Jones lost possession and Exeter served Stockley for an overhead kick that came back off the post.
Reid then scrambled past Clint Hill to test Jack Bonham's reflexes and with all this happening inside six minutes one wondered if another high-scoring game between two historically intrepid opponents was going to unfold.
It was, though, less open than that. Carlisle had a 4-4-2 system that saw Kelvin Etuhu do some decent pressing on the right, but it was hard work in general to find Hallam Hope and Miller in scoring areas. Brown had a goal disallowed for a foul at the other end while United worked hard to contain Lee Holmes and Jake Taylor in wide positions, as the Grecians looked to build from Stockley's aerial work and Reid's strength with his back to goal.
United, at times, whipped some decent ball into Exeter's domain without anything purposeful on the end of it. There were also too many hopeful balls for Hope and Miller, neither traditional target-men, to leap for. Taylor and Stockley were denied at the Blues' end, meanwhile, and the latter earned brief villain status from fans who thought he had made the most of a challenge that left him on the turf, holding his face.
On balance, Exeter had carved the better chances, including a glorious free header that Hiram Boateng put over the bar in added time. Yet neither side could claim to have penetrated effectively, which made it all the more deflating when the visitors did snatch the lead three minutes into the second half.
It was a moment that did not reward repeated viewings. Exeter's back-post corner was kept alive too easily, and as Sweeney stole in to head the ball home there were too many United players waiting for someone else to clear up the spillage.
As with all opening goals, it changed the focus of the game and obliged Carlisle to show some better creative mettle. Curle sent Jamie Devitt on after 58 minutes and went to three at the back in search of invention, but Reid then blew a great chance to make it two, heading Craig Woodman's cross wide.
From here, Exeter's impetus slowed and United, with Reggie Lambe added, spent more time in the away half. As the visitors adopted a more defensive frame, Carlisle had more options across the width of the pitch and looked to use them, Adams and Lambe often fed in crossing space.
This is how the final 25 minutes went. Adams put over a cluster of crosses that went unrewarded. A shorter pass from the winger saw Joyce test Christy Pym from outside the box, and when Lambe then picked out Miller, Dean Moxey (on for the injured Luke Croll) cleared his header off the line.
United did get close a few more times like this, notably when Hope headed a Devitt cross a few inches wide. Tisdale took off Reid and went further onto the defensive, and Exeter then survived another very near miss, when Kennedy (on for James Brown) attacked a Grainger corner and Hill volleyed it towards goal, Pym tipping it onto the bar from where it bounced down kindly onto an Exeter head.
Hill spent the closing minutes as an extra striker and this meant there were a few extra acres for Tisdale's team to exploit when they did venture up the pitch. One such counter-attack saw Bonham deny Taylor, and later Liddle scampered back to intercept Stockley's finish as it rolled towards the net.
These efforts kept United alive but, as Liddle and Hill headed remaining chances off target, it returned sadly to mind that Miller's goal of the month contender against Barnet remains the last time a Blues player disturbed the net at Brunton Park.
That was on September 16; by the time they are back at base, a month will have passed since then. "Wins will come at home," said Curle, trying to remain upbeat. After Colchester, the pressure to deliver on that promise will be greater still.