Exeter City fans can count themselves fortunate to have come away with a draw against Portsmouth at St. James Park, reports Cillian Dunn
A last-gasp equaliser from Liam Sercombe left Exeter City fans celebrating a point, as the Grecians drew 1-1 with League 2 giants Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon at St. James Park.
Manager Paul Tisdale afterwards described his side’s equaliser as “deserved”, but the truth of the matter is that they were hugely fortunate to come away with anything at all. This would not have mattered to the home supporters, however, who took immense pleasure in finally being able to silence the raucous 1,442 Pompey fans, who had been delighting in taunting them since Jake Jervis had put his side ahead in the ninth minute.
The opening was entertaining but scrappy, as you’d expect from two sides sitting 16th and 19th respectively in League 2. Exeter Academy graduate Tom Nichols, starting up front in place of John O’Flynn, who dropped to the bench, created the game’s first opportunity, chesting down a long ball to Sercombe. The midfielder’s shot was well struck, but failed to trouble Pompey stopper Trevor Carson.
The Blues immediately responded with a long range effort from Marcos Painter, but his shot too was easily saved by Artur Krysiak. Truthfully, in spite of a few dangerous crosses from both sides, neither side looked like scoring until Jervis did just that for Portsmouth – poking home Ben Chorley’s knockdown following an excellent free kick from Ricky Holmes.
To their credit, City looked to respond immediately, with Nichols unlucky in failing to connect with Danny Butterfield’s superb cross, yet it says a lot that it was a back pass from Chorley that put Carson under the most pressure, with the keeper relieved to see the ball go out for a corner after it had embarrassingly trickled under his foot.
For all their effort, the Grecians were struggling to gain a foothold on the game, admittedly not helped by the fact that they were playing into the wind, making anything resembling flowing football difficult to say the least.
The exception to this was midfielder Matt Grimes, who proved tenacious, but also (seemingly uniquely among his teammates) an excellent passer of the ball, his long range shot fizzing just past Carson’s post. In spite of his best efforts, however, Pompey could well have doubled their lead had former England International Nicky Shorey not had a powerful strike blocked by Pat Baldwin, while Holmes, dangerous throughout, curled two similar attempts narrowly over.
By the end of the half, City did at least seem to be displaying some signs of waking up, with Carson doing well to keep out Scott Bennett’s close range header, and even better to claw away Sercombe’s deflected strike, which initially looked destined to fall to the stretching Jimmy Keohane. It was Exeter’s best spell, yet had it not been for a superb last-ditch challenge from Grimes on Jervis, Pompey would have still finished the half two goals to the good.
If the home fans had hoped that City might improve after the break, they were to be sorely disappointed. Clearly hoping to end the game as a contest, Portsmouth were on the attack from the off, with Jervis denied by another excellent challenge, this time from substitute Jordan Moore-Taylor, on at half-time for the injured Bennett.
A couple of efforts from Keohane aside, City failed to provide any sort of sustained threat, but the visitors continued to dominate with Holmes somehow failing to hit the target following a drilled cross from Jervis, and Krysiak doing well to keep out another shot from Shorey. City’s efforts on the pitch were summed up when the loudest cheer of the match came with the announcement that there had been a landslide on the South West trains’ railway line, meaning that the travelling Portsmouth contingent faced delays on their journey home.
It was shortly after this that City had their first real chance of the half, though it came from a Pompey player, Wes Fogden, who headed past his own keeper only for Carson to recover and make the save. The comedy of errors continued when Krysiak replicated his fellow keeper’s first-half error, mis-kicking the ball to send Ryan Taylor through on goal, but the forward went one better, incredibly managing to screw his shot wide.
Such misses usually prove costly, but Pompey fans would surely have hoped, that with the standard of their opposition so low, it might be one they would get away with. When substitute David Wheeler’s injury-time ‘goal’ was disallowed for offside, even the most pessimistic could be forgiven for thinking they had, but football is a cruel game.
They were reminded of this with what was virtually the last kick of the game, Sercombe lashing home to send the home fans into ecstasy, the result all the more sweet as it was one they all knew that they had not deserved.bookmark me