Exeter are level on points with Notts County at the top of League Two and they can build on a fine start with victory over a Carlisle side they know well...
"Some might argue the Grecians are weaker for the departures of Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler in the summer but that isn’t evident on the pitch. With a shot ratio of 57 per cent, City are dominating matches to the same degree that they did over the final six months of last term."
Carlisle v Exeter
Only five months have passed since these two teams played out one of the greatest semi-finals in League Two Play-off history. Jack Stacey settled an 11-goal thriller with a thunderbolt in the fifth minute of stoppage time at St James Park, sending Exeter to Wembley with a 3-2 victory on the night, 6-5 on aggregate.
It was a breathtaking finale to an incredible contest but, in truth, the drama was testament to the nerve-shredding nature of the competition and the sheer cojones in the Carlisle ranks, rather than any parity in performance. Paul Tisdale's men should have been home and hosed long before the anguish that greeted John O'Sullivan's late, late leveller for the Cumbrians.
Over the course of the two legs, Exeter dominated territory, possession and shots on target. For more than two hours they sat on a lead, they twice held a two-goal advantage and at no stage were they behind, nor did they ever look like they might go behind. Whenever the scores - and the stakes - were level, it was one-sided. The Grecians looked a cut above.
Last season, the two teams finished level on points but that tells only half a story. In late November, Carlisle were second in the table on 34 points from 17 matches, 18 points ahead of an Exeter team they had just beaten 3-2 with late goals from Shaun Miller and Charlie Wyke. In 40 league outings since, Exeter have taken 80 points, Carlisle just 51.
The departure of Wyke was a clear turning point in Keith Curle's tenure at Brunton Park and the respective performance data over the past ten months backs up the results: Exeter are automatic promotion material, Carlisle are lower mid-table fodder. With that base rate assessment in mind, you cannot grumble with odds of [2.86] available on the away win.
Some might argue the Grecians are weaker for the departures of Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler in the summer but that isn't evident on the pitch. With a shot ratio of 57 per cent, City are dominating matches to the same degree that they did over the final six months of last term. Eleven games into the new campaign, they trail leaders Notts County only on goal difference.
1pt Exeter to beat Carlisle at [2.86]
Crewe v Stevenage
Stevenage have crept into the top seven of League Two with three wins in eight days last week, hinting at their ability to deal with the rigours of a gruelling 46-game season. And they look decent value to account for beleaguered Crewe at [2.40]. The visitors have arguably the clearest tactical identity in the division, hosted by another with possibly the most diluted.
The summer signing of Chris Porter appears to be at the root of many problems for the Railwaymen, prompting Dave Artell to upset the winning formula that propelled his team to safety towards the end of last season. The 33-year-old striker has been a guaranteed starter since moving north from Colchester, largely at the expense of Jordan Bowery.
However, it was Bowery's link-up play as the focal point in a 4-3-2-1 that was pivotal to the turnaround at Gresty Road last term, providing 31-year-old Chris Dagnall with the ammunition to fire 12 goals in the final 14 matches running from deep. Now Porter is the main main and Artell has tried several systems to try and accommodate him, with little success.
It's only recently, in the midst of an abysmal run that now totals six straight defeats, that Artell has tried to crowbar Bowery back into the starting line-up, alongside both veterans in attack. So now it's George Cooper who takes a back seat, an incisive 20-year-old left winger who scored 10 goals and provided 14 assists last term.
Carlisle were 5-0 winners at Gresty Road a fortnight ago, only for Stevenage to bring them crashing back down to earth at Brunton Park three days later. It's an overly simplistic way to emphasise the difference between these two teams but it's a good indicator the recent standards they have been setting. And with Stevenage, you sense the best is yet to come.
Speaking after the 2-0 win over Port Vale last weekend, Boro boss Darren Sarll said: "The thing I love at the moment is that, despite the three wins this week, there's an expectation for more. I can sense that in the fans and I applaud them for wanting even better. The culture at the club is absolutely terrific."
1pt Stevenage to beat Crewe at [2.40]
Mike Holden Profit/Loss 2017-18
Staked: 29 pts
Returned: 16.52 pts
P/L: -12.48 pts