On a wet evening at St. James’ Park, Exeter fought back from 2-0 down against a strong Bath side to rescue a valuable point for their BUCS campaign and ensure that the annual Varsity game finished in the most exciting way possible: a last minute equaliser from substitute Luke Barner, sending the 1,670-strong crowd into frenzied celebrations.
In the early stages of the game, possession for both sides was hard to come by, changing hands regularly as hosts and visitors alike looked for an early foothold in the game. Early forays up the pitch for both teams were brought to a halt with loose balls quickly ending any chance of a breakthrough.
It was Bath who had the first clear-cut opportunity, as they were afforded a free-kick from a dangerous position with only five minutes on the clock. Defended stoutly by the face of the Exeter wall, before a blatant dive into the hosts’ penalty area was greeted with raucous cheers from the Exeter faithful stationed behind the goal.
The visitors settled quicker and were looking the more comfortable out of the two sides: their centre forward stinging the crossbar from range as goalkeeper Ben Pryor was left planted to the spot. The left wing was beginning to provide some joy for Exeter, as Ben Wicherek set Toby Yeates through on goal only to be thwarted by the offside flag. This soon became a common theme, and a well-worked move involving crisp passing from Tom Norton, Andy Farley and Matteo Corsaro ended in a similar fashion with Callum Miller found to be offside.
With the rain now pouring down, Exeter wasted no time in pushing forward again. Luke Roper won a free-kick about 40 yards from goal and a move straight from the training-ground won the home side a corner, however the resulting set piece was low and hard and was comfortably cleared. Bath counterattacked quickly and a neat through ball – initially well saved by Pryor – was turned in, evading the men on the line.
Having suffered a setback, Exeter looked to hit back immediately and sloppy defending from Bath set Andy Farley through on goal. He cut back inside onto his stronger foot and looked to curl it into the top corner but unfortunately sent the ball well wide. The game had opened up, however, and both sides were looking to force openings. Bath had a good chance to double their advantage, but a poor chip found the safe arms of goalkeeper Pryor. The hosts were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of openings and fouls started to fly in. They certainly had the right idea in attack, but thus far Bath’s defenders were equal to the task.
As the game began to peter out with half-time approaching, both sides were doing a poor job of keeping possession and keeping the ball on the ground. Captain Louis Bouwers did a fantastic job cutting out a neat through ball, but with the danger not yet gone, the header from the resulting cross was fantastically tipped over the bar by Ben Pryor. Pryor had done a sterling job at keeping the deficit at a minimum, but was unable to do anything about the second goal; Bath’s winger outdoing Exeter’s fullback for pace before their forward met the ball in the box and duly converted.
With the score at 2-0, Exeter continued to show good attacking nous but yet another attack was called against no.10 for offside. Bath were now looking dangerous with every attack, using their wingers to good effect. A free-kick in a promising position was wildly slashed high and wide by Exeter as the half was drawn to a close.
The beginning of the second half offered more promise, and as Bath kicked off, there was an air of hopefulness around the ground. The intention had been spot on from the hosts, but a lack of execution in the final third of the pitch meant that Exeter had to work hard to recover the two-goal deficit. A cross-cum-shot from Bath’s winger whistled wide, sparking a positive attack from Exeter. It was the same story though, as the strikers struggled to chase the heavily-weighted ball.
Thus far, Exeter’s aggression wasn’t being directed positively, rash challenges leaving spaces open and more chances to break. Bath were still looking the most likely to force a breakthrough as Exeter struggled to force much possession in the final third. A softly conceded free-kick in a promising position gave the visitors another chance at goal, but it was once again put straight into the wall.
Exeter made some substitutions, injecting some much-needed freshness into the attack. Harry Jenkins instantly looked dangerous on the right flank and Luke Barner looked lively from the off, keen to get behind Bath’s defenders and working hard to close down the ball. The pressure paid off; a smart interception and cross across the face of goal by Barner was turned in by Ben Wicherek with a cool finish into the opposite corner. Exeter had their tails up, but time was certainly against them, with less than 15 minutes remaining.
With Exeter in the ascendancy and Bath looking shell-shocked, the hosts aimed to capitalise on their new-found confidence by closing down well and countering quickly. Bath were still winning the majority of the 50/50 aerial balls, but when they fell, it was Exeter who were quickest to pounce. Another fine instinctive stop from Pryor stopped Bath from adding a third, and with Bath looking to slow down the game wherever possible, it seemed as though time had run out for the home side.
A late corner for Exeter was wildly cheered by the home faithful; Ben Pryor even headed up to provide an extra man in the Bath penalty area as Exeter had one last chance to steal something from the game. Luke Barner met the ball with a fantastic near-post header to level the scores and spark jubilant celebrations on the touchline. The final whistle brought the crowd back to their feet, applauding the efforts of their team who held out so well and produced the final result when it was most needed.
It was a scintillating finale to a game which Bath dominated for long periods, but credit must go to the Exeposé Man of the Match Ben Pryor, who kept his side in the game for so long with some vital saves. This draw leaves Exeter at the bottom of the table after four games, but the squad will surely take this impetus with them into the coming weeks.
1.Ben Pryor 2. Charlie Woodford 3. Ben Witherek 4. Luke Roper 5. Louis Bouwers 6. Ashley Beddows 7. Matteo Corsaro 8. Tom Norton 9. Callum Miller 10. Toby Yeates 11. Andy Farley 12. Luke Barner 15. Christopher Lund 16. Ben Mogg 18. Harry Jenkins
Watch the full match: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-ER-FmeBtU
Luke Barner’s last minute equaliser: https://youtu.be/l-ER-FmeBtU?t=2h11s
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