More defensive mistakes prove costly as Valiants add to Exeter's woes on home soil
Port Vale manager Micky Adams stressed the importance of keeping Jamie Cureton quiet ahead of his side's trip to Exeter City on Saturday.
He felt that achieving that aim would go halfway towards getting a result, and so it proved as the veteran front man barely had a kick and the Valiants stormed to a deserved 2-0 win in the battle of two of npower League Two's early season front-runners.
This was an opportunity for the Grecians to prove that they are not a one-man team and not reliant on the goals of Cureton, but it was not to be as an abject performance saw them crash to a third loss in only six home League games this season.
Cureton went into the game as the division's joint-top goalscorer, with nine goals. Joining him at the top of the charts was Port Vale's Tom Pope. The two are different types of strikers; Cureton is the predatory, poaching type, while Pope is a beast of a man, strong, powerful and as good on the ground as he is in the air.
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The two together would certainly strike fear into any League Two defence, but, while Cureton cut an isolated figure all too often on Saturday, Pope showed why he had started the season in such style with both of the Valiants' goals to pull two clear of Cureton in the goalscoring stakes.
Pope's first was a fine header. A cross from Jennison Myrie-Williams appeared to have eluded him at the far post, but he showed brilliant technique to get over the ball and cushion a header past Rhys Evans and into the corner.
His second again came from a deep cross. He used Craig Woodman to gain a few extra inches and sent a well-directed header back across goal and inside Evans' upright.
From City's point of view though, they were soft goals – and therein lies part of their problem.
Exeter are fast becoming the section's most charitable team, with easy goals becoming the norm this season. Certainly on home soil.
The ease with which Myrie-Williams got clear of Woodman for the first and was allowed to cross was astonishing, and the ease with which Vale cut City apart down the right in the second half and allowed Ashley Vincent to cross for Pope's second was equally so. Woodman should have made it harder for the striker to make contact, but was caught ball watching and provided the ideal platform for Pope to climb and make contact with the ball.
One of the fundamental basic jobs of a full-back is to stop crosses from coming into the box. It is not always possible but, this season, opposing wingers have been afforded such freedom that they do not only cross the ball, but pretty much put it where they want.
Another job is to stop the winger from running into dangerous areas, yet City are culpable of backing off too much and giving space in which opponents can do just that.
Quite simply, City are making it all too easy to allow players to run at them and deliver balls into their box. When that happens, they then struggle to defend them and end up conceding the soft goals that everyone is aware of, but which keep occurring.
It is certainly detrimental to Exeter's home form, which is consistently inconsistent. Good performances are all well and good, as is the pretty, eye-pleasing football. But Exeter are leaving themselves with too much to do after shooting themselves in the foot and falling behind in games.
Only once have City managed to get the first goal at St James' Park this season, and that resulted in a 3-0 win. City's other home victory against Wycombe Wanderers saw them twice come from behind, a measure of the problem facing manager Paul Tisdale this season.
Exeter have maintained their high placing in the League thanks to their superb away form. Four wins from five is an excellent return, but the natives are getting restless and struggle to believe that the City they see at home is the same one that performs so well outside of Devon.
City had their chances against Port Vale, but, as Tisdale said come full-time, they ultimately came up just short. Steve Tully came within inches of making it 1-1, but his thunderous header crashed back off the crossbar. It would have been a great way for him to mark his 400th appearance, but he can otherwise be happy with his performance and was one of very few to emerge from the game with credit.
Seconds after Tully's header came Pope's second. It was a double-whammy – it was that sort of day for the Grecians.