Tisdale's tactical master-stroke bears fruit for Bennett and Exeter
WHEN Paul Tisdale played Scot Bennett as a centre-forward at Chesterfield last season, little was made of his inclusion as a front man.
Tisdale's post-match comments at the time that it was a position he felt Bennett could thrive were taken with a pinch of salt. But when he made a similar suggestion following last week's defeat to Newport County, you felt there was more substance to the claim.
City were trailing 2-0 and in a desperate bid to get back into the game. Bennett, who started the game at centre-half, was asked to play further forward. He did not score, but he made himself a nuisance.
It was a similar but more successful story at Fleetwood Town on Saturday. With the game delicately poised at 0-0, Tisdale went for broke by throwing Bennett into the front line and flanking him with Alan Gow and substitute David Wheeler.
Suddenly, City found themselves a goal behind as Matty Blair gave the 'Cod Army' a 71st-minute lead. But Exeter heads refused to drop and Bennett was to emerge the hero with two goals in three minutes to turn the game on its head for the Grecians.
It was remarkable in so many ways. Not just for Bennett's brilliant brace, but because of the fact Exeter had travelled to Fleetwood beset by injuries. Several players, including key strike pair Sam Parkin and John O'Flynn, had stayed at home, while Wheeler was named as a substitute despite being only half-fit.
In fact, so bad was this chronic injury list that Tisdale could only name six players on the bench. Last Thursday, he hinted that his kit would be on the bus as well, just in case he would be needed. Perhaps that too was left behind because, in hindsight, he was needed, if only to make up the numbers on the bench.
It was also remarkable because this was very much a clash of the haves and the have-nots. Fleetwood may be small in stature but they are the Chelsea or Manchester City of League Two, with the sort of financial muscle that is the envy of many rivals.
City's situation is well known, of course. But you would not have known who were the expensive team and who were the assembled unit of youngsters and 'freebies' on a blissfully pleasant sunny afternoon on the Lancashire coast.
Lining up in a new-look, but not completely unfamiliar 3-5-2 system, Exeter easily repelled Fleetwood in a first half that the home side dominated, but rarely threatened. They stuck with their preferred system of one man up front, which left two City centre-halves free to plug the gaps that the hosts' midfielders like to run into.
As a result, chances were at a premium in the first half and, when he was called upon, Artur Krysiak responded with crucial saves from Antoni Sarcevic and then Nathan Pond. But they were the only times he was tested in a poker-like first half.
The second half was a different story. Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander was the first to show his hand by replacing the ineffective Brown with Blair and it led to a strong start from the home side, even if they could not get a goal.
Either side of the hour mark, Tisdale made his move. The recalled Tommy Doherty and Jamie Reid, starting his first game of the campaign, made way for debutant Danny Butterfield and Wheeler. City switched to a 4-3-3 system, with Bennett thrown forward.
It led to Exeter's best spell of the game yet, against the run of play, Fleetwood scored on 71 minutes. Blair cut in from the left wing and got past Butterfield and fired a low shot into the opposite corner of the goal.
However, as City have shown many times this season, they are made of strong stuff. They refused to let their heads drop and responded with the equaliser five minutes later. Gow was looking a threat all afternoon and he delivered a smart pass to Bennett to convert with a shot across goal.
Three minutes later, the two combined again to fashion the winner. This time, Bennett came in at the back post to finish with a smart, close-range volley.
The expected onslaught from Fleetwood never materialised with the only genuine concern from Exeter's point of view coming when Danny Coles limped off just before four minutes of stoppage time were displayed. Jordan Moore-Taylor replaced him, but ultimately had little to do as the Grecians held firm to seal their first-ever win against Fleetwood.