Punch-drunk Exeter brought down to earth by impressive Hartlepool
AFTER any momentous occasion, celebrated by one or two drinks too many, comes the inevitable hangover. Saturday's defeat to Hartlepool United would suggest Exeter City need a pretty large dose of Alka-Seltzer to overcome theirs.
Last week, they were brilliant in victory by beating Devon derby rivals Plymouth Argyle. But it was a polar opposite at the weekend, when the Grecians turned in their worst performance for some time in losing 3-0 to a sprightly and hugely impressive Hartlepool side.
However, while there is the suggestion of a hangover amongst the players following last week's win, it should not be confined to just them. St James' Park resembled a Sunday morning pub the morning after a huge party, so sombre was the atmosphere.
In fact, the only time the crowd stirred was in the 88th minute when Scot Bennett's header finally tested Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders for the first time, which led to ironic cheers. And then at the full-time whistle, when boos rung round the ground in disapproval at City's performance.
Fantastic offer at Swanson Ford, Newton Abbot. 3 Years FREE Servicing and 5 Years Warranty available on your BRAND NEW FORD FIESTA with the AWARD WINNING ECOBOOST ENGINE!!!
Terms: Limited stock available. Only whilst stock lasts
Contact: 01626 240583
Valid until: Tuesday, December 24 2013
It was a disappointing performance and a disappointing show of "support" from the crowd. Especially on what should have been a day of celebration, with the Supporters' Trust marking ten years in charge at St James' Park.
In that time, the fans have done so much for the club and the team in times of need. Not so on Saturday. The whole afternoon turned into something of a damp squib. Saturday's performance was a prime example of when a team really needs their fans to help them from their slumber.
However, while City were well below par, great credit should go to Hartlepool, who are by far the best team to have visited the Park this season. They played a high line, pressed in midfield and denied Exeter the space to play their football. And in Luke James, who netted their second goal, and Jack Compton, scorer of the third and provider for the other two, they have two hugely gifted players destined for better things.
There was always the danger that Hartlepool would spring a surprise, as their form has gradually improved as the season has gone on. This was their third win in a week, with successes at Mansfield Town and Sheffield United (in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy) already in the bag. On this evidence, they will not be in the bottom half for long.
City's slow start was emphasised by Tisdale after the opening quarter. They already trailed to Jack Baldwin's header – he got on the end of Compton's cross as Exeter reacted slowly and poorly to a short corner – and then the loss of right-back Danny Butterfield to a groin injury.
Jordan Moore-Taylor was summoned from the bench to replace him, but Tisdale's concerns did not stop there.
"Sharpen up," he bellowed from the sidelines as his front three of Alan Gow, Bennett and David Wheeler reacted slowly once again and a rare attack broke down.
The Grecians were static with their movement, emphasised best by their reactions to throw-ins, and played the ball round with no gumption. There were so many under-par performers that Tisdale really needed more than the three substitutes permitted.
The first of those was enforced, when Butterfield limped off, the second came at half-time when Dave Wheeler was replaced by Jimmy Keohane. John O'Flynn was the third, replacing Gow. But those who came off were by no means any worse than those who remained on the field. It was a day when it was hard to single anyone out for praise, so poor were they individually and collectively.
Hartlepool were the other end of the spectrum. Baldwin's opener was a simple header from eight yards, but the goal of the game came from James.
It came five minutes after half-time when City were struggling to adapt to a switch to a 3-5-2 formation. Compton weighted a lovely pass into James, whose first touch was exquisite. His second was equally as good as he deftly lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Artur Krysiak and into the net from 12 yards.
Compton lashed in the third on 62 minutes with a shot from ten yards to complete the win. As with any hangover, though, it needs to be slept off. It is hard to imagine Exeter will be this bad for their forthcoming games at Scunthorpe United and Oxford United.