Exeter City pay the price for their woeful first half
It is hard to be too critical of a team who have gained a club-record ten wins away from home this season and suffered their first loss on their travels since the start of November. But Exeter City's 4-2 defeat at promotion rivals Burton Albion on Saturday raised more questions than it provided answers as to their promotion credentials.
The Grecians have been defensively superb so far in 2013, conceding only once from open play in eight away matches. But they were torn apart by a Burton side who scored three times in a desperately poor first half in which Exeter were well off the pace.
To make matters worse, Burton did not have to work particularly hard for their goals as they were aided by some sloppy Exeter play. The first came after the Grecians had lost possession in midfield, and Jacques Maghoma receioved the ball on the left. He laid it back to Damian McCrory, whose low cross bobbled into the penalty area, evaded three Exeter defenders, and left Michael Symes with a simple finish six yards out.
The second came when goalkeeper Rhys Evans, in for the injured Artur Krysiak, spilled a soft Maghoma long-range strike round a post and as Burton took a short corner as the Grecians were sleeping. Maghoma ghosted along the goal line and set up Marcus Holness, who got in front of Scot Bennett far too easily to head in off the far post.
From Monday to Friday,
Come and enjoy our special menu at £12 per person for 3 course-meal.
Not in conjunction with any other offers.
From Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner.
Subject to availability.
Contact: 01752 424381
Valid until: Wednesday, July 31 2013
Maghoma is the kind of winger you love to see in your team. Quick, tricky and with an eye for the spectacular, he led the Grecians a merry dance all afternoon and he duly added the third with barely 35 minutes on the clock. Symes found acres of space between Exeter's two centre-halves and he cushioned the ball perfectly for the Frenchman to run on to it and curl a delightful effort into the corner from 18 yards, with Evans rooted to the spot.
Three chances, three goals. Exeter, meanwhile, had barely ventured into Burton's penalty box, so laboured was their performance. Their only attempts of a dismal first half came from Tommy Doherty, whose long-range volley was high and wide, and Jamie Cureton, who, with his back to goal, failed to connect with a bicycle kick and the ball drifted harmlessly wide of goal.
Under manager Paul Tisdale, Exeter have forged a reputation for being a neat and attractive footballing team. There was none of that in the first half on Saturday.
Time and time again, they pumped long balls either into the corners of the pitch, or in the general direction of Cureton. It was meat and drink for Burton's two centre-halves and even the locals commented on the surprising change of style in Exeter's play.
To the naked eye, it was unconventional, direct and awful to watch – and it led to barely any goalmouth action.
The second half was a slight improvement. Guillem Bauza came on for Arron Davies at the break, but, before he found the scoresheet, Lee Bell tried his luck from distance and the ball crashed down off the crossbar and back into play. However, the linesman flagged that the ball had crossed the line. It was some strike.
Unsurprisingly, Exeter's path back into the game was route one. Craig Woodman's long ball dropped kindly for Bauza off the back of Cureton and he rammed the ball first time into the bottom corner.
By then, Matt Oakley had entered the fray and provided some welcome composure to a midfield, where only Doherty emerged with any credit for another dogged performance. The rest were well below par, although Bennett earned some redemption when he powered an Oakley corner goalwards. The ball was hacked back into play, but again, the linesman flagged that the ball had crossed the line.
Suddenly, with 15 minutes remaining, everyone was thinking: Game on. The Exeter fans had offered superb vocal encouragement and sensed the Brewers were rocking. Not so. The way the Grecians finished the game was equally as inept and disappointing as the first half.
They did not even create a chance, with Woodman's wasteful free-kick, which caused more concern to the scoreboard at the top of the stand than Burton goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson, their only effort in a desperately poor finale.
Exeter would have gone above Burton with victory at the Pirelli Stadium, but they were a distant second best. It does not get any easier, with a trip to second-placed Port Vale tomorrow, but speak to anyone inside the Exeter camp and they will maintain that they are genuine promotion contenders.
Quite simply, performances have to improve because they have not been good enough in many games of late. Now is the time for the Grecians to stand up and be counted and walk the walk, rather than talk the talk.