Careless Exeter City fail to find way to win on home soil
Exeter City will rarely play any better than they did against Barnet on Saturday. Yet once again, the Grecians were unable to improve their shocking home record as the Bees staged the most unlikely of comebacks to salvage a point from a 2-2 draw.
City's home record is well documented. They had won only three times in 12 npower League Two games on home soil going into the game, but a win in front of the home faithful looked certain after a first half in which City stormed into a 2-0 lead.
The scoreline did little to underline the sheer dominance City enjoyed. Even Barnet head coach Edgar Davids admitted his side were lucky to be only two goals down at the break, and that it could have been six. It was no exaggeration, but, for all the purpose, endeavour and sheer graft Exeter showed in the first half, they could not match it in the second.
They were still the more dominant side, but, when Davids went off midway through the second half, the tide began to turn. His replacement, Jon Nurse, pulled one back and the writing was on the wall. What should have been a dominant and emphatic home win instead turned into the most frustration of draws as Andy Iro salvaged a draw in the seventh minute of stoppage time, bundling the ball home amid some pretty powder-puff defending.
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The boos that rung out moments later as the full-time whistle blew were caused by sheer frustration. Looking at the bigger picture, there was so much to be encouraged by and feel positive about. It was a vast improvement on the showing against Oxford United. But, right now, City need wins on home soil, not pretty performances.
Manager Paul Tisdale's team selection saw him make one change to the side that under performed against Oxford. Sixteen-goal top goalscorer Jamie Cureton was benched, with Jimmy Keohane coming into the side.
The change certainly raised eyebrows, but there is always plenty of thought in Tisdale's selection. Playing John O'Flynn against his former employers meant a lone striker full of energy and plenty of running, while the midfield was beefed up with Keohane's inclusion.
The young Irishman certainly did not disappoint and was certainly one of Exeter's more industrious players. So too was Scot Bennett, who dominated the midfield area and chipped in with Exeter's second goal. Bennett perhaps needed a performance after going off the boil in recent weeks and he was superb in breaking up play, whilst displaying an eye for a pass with several balls sprayed wide and forward to get Exeter going.
He was joined in midfield by Liam Sercombe, another to have under-performed lately. However, his afternoon ended prematurely when a strong challenge led to him limping out of the action.
The Exeter-born midfielder spent the evening having an ankle X-rayed, which revealed a break. Sercombe's next six weeks will be spent sitting in frustration with his ankle in a cast.
However, it was Exeter's other midfielder, Matt Oakley, who was involved in most of the early play. The veteran playmaker could have scored four goals, with the chances he had. The best of those came after a quite wonderful passing move from back to front, but, as Keohane poked the ball off to his team-mate, Oakley knocked the ball wide from barely six yards.
Oakley saw another effort saved by Graham Stack after finding himself one-on-one, while he glanced another header wide. O'Flynn did have the ball in the net, only for the 'goal' to be disallowed for offside, while Keohane side-footed wide from 18 yards as Exeter virtually camped inside the Barnet half.
Alan Gow was off target with a couple of efforts from distance, but he was considerably more accurate with his delivery from set-plays. On 34 minutes, his corner found Danny Coles, who powered a header past Stack from six yards.
Frustratingly, Exeter tried a short corner with their next one, which came to nothing. But, when they had another moments later, it was again Coles causing damage with a header that hit a Barnet body in the six-yard box. As the ball fell to Bennett, he poked the ball past Stack and into the net.
As the saying goes though, 2-0 is a dangerous lead. Exeter began to get deeper the longer the second half wore on and, after Davids had limped off with a shoulder injury, the Bees improved. Exeter failed to deal with a move down their left and John Oster played the ball to Nurse, who hit a low shot across Artur Krysiak and in off the far post.
Aaron Dawson, on as a substitute for the stricken Sercombe, had forced Stack into a smart save by this point and fellow substitute Arron Davies should have done better after being teed up by Cureton in the 90th minute. His shot was blocked, though, and Barnet made City pay.
Seven minutes of stoppage time seemed excessive, even taking into account stoppages for the injuries to Sercombe and Davids. But, with seconds remaining, Nurse's cross was headed down and Iro held off Baldwin to turn and knock the ball past Krysiak for his first goal in English football from a couple of yards.
It was too late for City to salvage a desperate situation and it extended the run to three wins from 13 League games at the Park. One point from two 'winnable' home games over the Christmas period is a very poor return. This was most definitely a case of two points dropped.