Exeter City suffered their second consecutive defeat at the hands of a struggling Port Vale.
A Tom Pope goal in the 25th minute was enough to hand the visitors all three points, despite continued Exeter pressure.
The Grecians found it hard to settle into their rhythm and stamp any authority on a match that, ostensibly, looked to be a formality. For a side that has been so rampant at home this season and played such enterprising and compelling football, City looked short of ideas.
“City looked short of ideas”
There were early warning signs as Vale’s Ben Whitfield thundered a shot at Pym’s goal – though it was a stinging effort, Pym never really looked particularly threatened. And Pope’s tame effort from just five yards out had Vale fans in disbelief, for he surely should’ve scored
The visitors came here with a game plan and were executing it well, stifling City’s expansive approach and utilising the blustering conditions.
Yet just as the home side looked to have found some of their usual panache and enterprise, they were hit with a sucker-punch counter-attack. David Worrall broke down City’s left, ghosted past his man and found an on-rushing Pope. With the memory of his early miss fresh in his mind, Pope made no mistake this time, curling his effort past an outstretching Pym.
City needed to respond, but it was Vale who still looked the likelier to score, with Pope’s header going close and a Whitfield strike threatening.
If the first half was a terse affair, then the second half wasn’t much better. Once again, Paul Tisdale’s men failed to find their touch. There were flashes of class from Hiram Boateng, whose deft touch, physical strength and acute awareness mean his quality exudes. Yet Boateng really needed to be on the ball a lot more often than he was. Capable of dictating the game, the man on loan from Crystal Palace has the potential to take the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck. Lloyd James, too, showed instances of controlling the game, but failed to cement a real grip in the midfield.
“Exeter looked to have been handed a life-line”
It appeared as though Exeter were given a life-line when Troy Brown’s header, from a Moxley free-kick, trickled into the net. The cheers were soon cut short when the linesman’s flag was raised. It could’ve been the catalyst that this game so desperately craved, but instead, it served to become a symbol for a frustrating 90 minutes.
For a time following this disallowed, goal, it seemed an equaliser was imminent. Sweeney went close, Stockley looked dangerous and when Liam McAlinden was threaded through it seemed it would be harder to miss. The substitute, on for Kyle Edwards, skyed his shot into the Big Bank as groans reverberated around the ground.
It was to be City’s last clear-cut chance and it was the visitors who were likelier to score in the final minutes. Two smart saves from Pym spared Exeter from a 2-0 loss and though the fact that 6 minutes were added on was met with enthusiasm, City simply did not have the punch and invention when it mattered.