Exeter City’s poor home form saw them slump to a 1-0 defeat against relegation-battling Newport County.
A fine, 25-yard strike from Newport midfielder Tom Owen-Evans early in the second half was enough to condemn Paul Tisdale’s spirited, but fruitless side.
An accident on the M5 meant the game was delayed by 45 minutes, and the expectant fans were left wanting when neither team managed to get a foothold early in the match.
“Expectant fans were left wanting”
Exeter had a good chance to take the lead in the 11th minute when the ball fell kindly to Ryan Harley, but his effort was blocked; while County fullback Dan Butler almost scored from the resulting break, Christy Pym saving well low to his right.
The Grecians’ most potent threat throughout the game came from crosses, and top-scorer David Wheeler almost capitalised in the 18th minute when he fired a clear-cut header straight into the arms of County keeper, Joe Day. It was a sense of déjà vu just moments later when Wheeler placed another header into the keepers’ hands.
The home side continued to press higher as the first half wore on, creating good pockets of play, and putting dangerous balls into the box, Wheeler and Troy Brown providing no end product for City’s wide men as the first half drew to a close.
While Exeter seemed to be upping the ante, the Welsh side held firm and nearly took the lead on the stroke of half-time when Ryan Bird headed wide from close range.
It was the away side who restarted the brighter, however, with good chances from Owen-Evans and Bird both going begging.
There was an air of inevitability when Owen-Evans fired the visitors into the lead with a superb effort in the 53rd minute; County making their pressure pay, something City will now be rueing.
“There was an air of inevitability”
Going behind saw a change to Exeter’s approach, and they roared into life, finally giving the packed St James Park crowd something to get their teeth into; the appearance of star man and hat-trick hero last time the sides met, Ollie Watkins, certainly gave them the spark they had been lacking.
Newport had also been spurred on by their lead, however, with Butler and Alex Samuel both missing good chances over the crossbar in a matter of minutes.
The home side continued to use their flanks to good effect, half-time substitute and fullback Jack Stacey seeing his low cross go blaring across the six-yard box on the hour mark.
Watkins, recently nominated for EFL young player of the year, then missed two chances, while target man Reuben Reid could also not make his efforts pay when his shot was blocked.
Newport meanwhile, ran the clock down comfortably, sitting progressively deeper and grinding out what could be a vital win to ensure their safety in the Football League.
One final effort in the dying embers of the game fell to centre-back Troy Brown who saw his header saved from a corner; Exeter lacking any kind of killer blow and ultimately coming up short against a well-organised Newport side.
Manager, Paul Tisdale, said, “They (Newport) made it a very competitive, tight game and they took their chance with that scenario. It was a tight game and I think it will be typical of the types of games we will get going into the end of the season. We weren’t at our best today and we have to learn from that.”
City remains in 6th place thanks to losses for Carlisle and Blackpool and continue their playoff push on Friday at home to Barnet.