Colchester 1-0 Exeter: Hosts win League Two play-off semi-final first leg

Cohen Bramall’s free-kick beat Exeter goalkeeper Lewis Ward at his near post

Cohen Bramall’s free-kick gave Colchester the advantage as they beat Exeter in a drab League Two play-off semi-final first leg.

The full-back’s whipped left-footed strike from the right side of the penalty area curled past Lewis Ward into the near post top corner in the first English Football League game since the Covid-19 suspension in March.

It was a rare highlight of an otherwise poor game as both sides struggled to unlock the opposing defence in front of an empty ground.

The two sides will meet again at St James Park on Monday with the winners facing either Northampton or Cheltenham for the final promotion place to League One.

In common with Wednesday’s two Premier League games the match commenced with both sides and the match officials taking a knee to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bramall had done well during the game as he kept Exeter’s danger man Randell Williams quiet – the Grecians failing to register an effort on target throughout the match.

In fact former Arsenal youngster Bramall was the only player to test a goalkeeper as he also forced Ward to calmly tip over a free-kick after 20 minutes.

The visitors – who managed to find a hotel for their players on Wednesday in order to avoid making the 250-mile journey from Devon to Essex on the day of the game – created little.

Their best chance came two minutes after Bramall’s free-kick when Nicky Law’s shot from 15 yards was deflected wide.

Exeter’s Matt Jay, who replaced the experienced Lee Martin after 36 minutes, hit the side netting with a second-half free-kick, while at the other end Frank Nouble had a pair of chances blocked in quick succession with 15 minutes to go.

The game was Colchester’s first play-off match for more than 22 years – they last featured in them when they beat Exeter’s nearest neighbours Torquay 1-0 at the old Wembley to win promotion from this level in 1998.

Both sets of players took a knee – showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement – as the referee blew his whistle to start the game
It was worth the wait for the breakthrough for Colchester’s cardboard cut-out fans…
A water break was taken midway through each half in line with new EFL protocols