On a beautiful February afternoon, Exeter City’s form continued to stutter as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Stevenage.
There were two changes to Exeter side that blew a 2-0 lead against Notts County on Tuesday night as Bobby Olejnik replaced Christy Pym and Jordan Tillson replaced the suspended Jake Taylor.
City got the game underway and shot out the blocks putting Stevenage under immediate pressure and winning a succession of early corners. First, Ryan Harley had a shot deflected from just inside the 18-yard box, and then Ollie Watkins had a looping header cleared off the line. This did not set Exeter’s tone for the half. Beyond Watkins, a livewire, the team were often lethargic and resorted to deep crosses into the box. Notably Olejnik did not take the chance afforded him by Tisdale and had several sloppy moments that could have cost City a goal.
The game dominated by midfield exchanges until, after half an hour, there were a flurry of opportunities. First Reuben Reid was centimetres away from getting on the end of a cross-come-shot from Harley. Seconds later Jobi McAnuff rolled back the years to his Premier League heyday picking up the ball on the halfway line, hurdling several challenges, and rifling a shot past the helpless Olejnik. It was no surprise to see the 35-year-old break the deadlock, the veteran often head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
The momentum had swung in Stevenage’s favour and they were the better team up until half time with a great deal of possession, yet they were unable to fashion many clear cut chances.
Paul Tisdale’s team talk clearly invigorated his side as they started the second half with an attitude that mirrored the first. They got their rewards as former Wales U21 midfielder Lloyd James whipped the ball in from deep and Reid was on hand to prod home to make it 1-1. It showed why Reid remains a crucial player to City in spite of looking ponderous and cumbersome through this encounter.
Both sides struggled to gain a foothold in the minutes that followed the equaliser and a bout of substitutions did little to help the game settle. Ben Kennedy replaced Josh McQuoid, whilst Aston Villa loanee Henry Cowans came on and had an immediate impact forcing a save from the unsteady Olejnik.
As the game entered its final fifteen minutes Liam McAlinden replaced the goal scorer Reid. His energy and tenacity was immediately evident; he evaded Fraser Franks on several occasions to create a number of chances that were either blocked or saved. In the final moments Exeter had the better of the opportunities, first the excellent Jack Stacey picked out Watkins who himself could only find the side netting, before the substitute Joel Grant fired over for the final action of the game.
Ultimately, neither side could be too disappointed with a draw although Tisdale and City will feel disappointed that they failed to take an opportunity to reinvigorate their promotion challenge.