Carlisle United unveiled their new 2012/13 home strip ahead of kick off and there was an air of anticipation around the ground as the players took to the pitch to do battle.
Manager Greg Abbott went with three changes with Andy Welsh coming into the starting line up for the first time since September and Matt Robson making a return at left back following his frustrating injury lay-off. Midfielder Jon-Paul McGovern came back into the fold to add some width on the right.
It was a must-win game for both teams as Exeter faced a battle against the drop, and with United continuing their charge to grab the final play-off spot.
There were chances at both ends in the space of sixty seconds just after kick off when Berrett nipped in to steal possession. He strode forward and went for goal but his shot was blocked. It fell nicely for Noble but he sent a first-time volley just wide as Pidgeley dived low to cover the angles.
A long ball forward from the goal kick found Simek out of position and Nardiello raced in to go one-on-one with Collin. A neat lob looked to be going in until it hit the post, skipped up onto the bar, and was cleared off the line by the retreating Danny Livesey.
Andy Welsh got into the game on the quarter hour and he cut inside before his blocked shot was eventually swept wide to McGovern. Zoko was there to meet the cross but his header went straight at Pidgeley.
Another pinpoint cross from Welsh followed and Zoko repeated the feat of nodding right at the former-Carlisle stopper, and he threw his arms down in frustration at not being able to find the target.
The Grecians had sat deep but they broke again through the lively Nardiello and he forced a parried save from Collin as he tried his luck from distance.
Carlisle went back on the front foot and a determined run from Cook took him to the edge of the area. He tried to feed his shot into the bottom corner but Pidgeley was equal to the task.
The Cumbrians should have scored on 24 minutes when McGovern delivered the perfect free kick into the six yard box. Zoko got there but his header lacked conviction and it was another simple save for the keeper.
United took the lead thanks to a lucky ricochet which allowed Zoko to run from deep. Excellent football followed as he exchanged a one-two with Cook and he made no mistake as he stroked the ball into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
But the lead lasted less than 60 seconds as Exeter swept forward from the restart. A low cross from the left found its way to the back post and Sercombe was there to bury it from close range.
Sercombe almost handed the visitors the lead when he tried to squeeze one past Collin when he went through two challenges on the left, but the keeper did well to beat it away as it moved awkwardly through the air.
Carlisle settled themselves and they grabbed the lead for the second time ahead of the break when a long ball from Livesey gave Cook something to chase. Pidgeley raced off his line to try to clear it but the young striker got there first and brought the crowd to its feet with a crunching volley which arrowed sweetly into the top corner.
Half Time: United 2 - 1 Grecians
Carlisle gave themselves a cushion at the start of the second half when McGovern picked Zoko out with a pinpoint cross. The striker held the ball up and put it on a plate for Noble, and he finished it off calmly with a side-footed shot past the keeper.
Exeter should have been right back in it when Collin fumbled a shot and dragged his man to the ground. Nardiello took the spot kick but he was left in disappointment as he crunched his effort onto the bar.
Noble went close again at the other end as the game really picked up its pace, and Nardiello headed over when he should have done better as he found himself with time in the box.
The Grecians kept trying to rescue their season with Nardiello and Frear going close, and they had an effort ruled out for offside as they kept the pressure on.
But Francois Zoko thrust a dagger into their hearts when he twisted and turned before finishing emphatically with a driven and powerful effort from just inside the 18-yard box.
The game remained open with Cook hitting the side netting in the closing stages, and Archibald-Henville somehow missed from two yards when he miscued a finishing touch with seconds left on the clock.
But it was Carlisle who took the points and kept the play-off dream alive with a very professional performance.
United - Zoko (34, 77), Cook (42), Noble (51)
Exeter - Sercombe (35)
Carlisle United - Collin, Simek, Livesey, Michalik, Robson, McGovern, Noble (Murphy 84), Berrett (Taiwo 65), Welsh (Thirlwell 74), Cook, Zoko. Subs - Madden, Beck.
Exeter City - Pidgeley, Tully, Jones, Dunne, Archibald-Henville, Sercombe, Noble, Nardiello (O'Flynn 86), Bennett (Frear 65), Baldwin (Duffy 70), Gow. Subs - Krysiak, Fortune.
Away fans - 244