Exeter's effort rewarded with a point at Fleetwood
at Highbury Stadium
Only time will tell whether Exeter City's point from their goalless draw at Fleetwood Town turns out to be one gained or two dropped on another day of twists and turns in the race for promotion from npower League Two.
In terms of quality, this game had plenty of it – and plenty of chances as well. Both sides could have come away with a victory, but in the end defences prevailed in an absorbing goalless stalemate.
In the first half especially, the Grecians looked dangerous going forward and had enough chances to have got themselves in front. The best of those fell to Jamie Cureton, but he saw one effort brilliantly saved, and the other he scooped somewhat wastefully over the crossbar.
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However, Fleetwood had chances as well. Most of those fell to the sizeable figure of Sam Parkin, but he was unable to beat Artur Krysiak in the Grecians' goal. When he did find the target, Krysiak was in the right place to ensure Exeter gained their eighth clean-sheet since the turn of the year.
After the break, it was a slightly different story. Tisdale withdrew Kevin Amankwaah, sensing the lanky full-back was feeling the effects of City's hectic recent run of games, and brought on John O'Flynn. It led to a change of formation as well, but Exeter did not pose the same kind of attacking threat that they had in the first.
That said, City ended the game superbly. Not only did they see out the three minutes of stoppage time by camping themselves in the Fleetwood half, but they had opportunities to win the game as well. Danny Coles saw a header cleared off the line, Cureton had another effort blocked and O'Flynn was denied by Scott Davies in a frantic finale.
However, the best chance fell to captain Coles, who blazed over the crossbar from 15 yards after Fleetwood had failed to clear a Craig Woodman corner.
A goal then would have been most welcome but, on the balance of play, probably undeserved. Fleetwood played their part in a really enjoyable and absorbing contest, but, come full-time, it was perhaps Exeter that were happier with the point.
After all, it keeps them in a play-off position – City lie seventh – and keeps the gap between the two promotion-chasing clubs to seven points, as it was before kick-off.
Exeter went into the game seeking a response to Wednesday's disappointing defeat at Bristol Rovers. It is not often manager Paul Tisdale is critical of his team, but he was at the Memorial Stadium. However, he got the response he wanted on Saturday.
As a result of the Rovers loss, he made two changes to the side. Steve Tully started his first game since the end of January by lining up on the right wing and Jimmy Keohane beefed up the midfield, with O'Flynn dropping to the bench.
Tommy Doherty was the other man to make way and the prognosis on him is not good, with Tisdale believing his midfield terrier could be out for three to four weeks with the back injury he aggravated against Rovers.
It was Fleetwood who started the better with former Yeovil Town midfielder Anthony Barry off-target early on and Parkin blasting a free-kick over Krysiak's crossbar. Exeter did not create much in the opening 20 minutes, but they were far from being overrun or outplayed and saw plenty of the ball.
Tisdale's tactical reshuffle from Wednesday saw Matt Oakley return to the middle of midfield, where he is so effective. Few players within the Grecians' ranks possess the speed of thought, passing accuracy and positional sense of Exeter's evergreen veteran.
Oakley also seems to bring the best out of Scott Bennett as well, and he enjoyed a better game than he did on Wednesday. However, it was Keohane, who played just in front of those two and in behind lone striker Cureton, who caught the eye in the first half.
The young Irishman is fast establishing himself as a key member of Exeter's first-team squad and his darting runs caused Fleetwood all kinds of problems. That was until he was caught quite crudely by Nathan Pond, who certainly left his mark on Keohane when the two jumped for a header.
It was one of those horrible collisions that makes a sickening noise and leaves you fearing the worst. If dangerous play is a straight red card in today's game, then he was lucky not to get one. Incredibly, he was not even booked. Pond knew exactly what he was doing, but credit to Keohane, who got to his feet and was able to continue.
Keohane faded after the break, after being thrust to the right by Tisdale to accommodate O'Flynn. Tully dropped to right-back as Amankwaah made way. That role does not suit Keohane, though, and with Tisdale also deploying Oakley, Tully, Arron Davies and Jake Gosling in that right midfield role at some point in the last three games, the City chief will be as pleased as anyone to have Mark Molesley available for tomorrow's clash with Gillingham following his three-match suspension.
Molesley has made the position his own since signing from Bournemouth and should be champing at the bit to get back to action after his self-imposed exile. The table-topping Gills will certainly provide Exeter with a stern test, but if the Grecians apply themselves in the same manner as they did in Lancashire on Saturday, then there is every reason they can build on a hard-earned point.