Billyt Munday reports on a 0-0 draw between League Two heavyweights Exeter City and Cheltenham Town.
Exeter City missed the chance to move into the automatic promotion places in League Two as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Cheltenham Town at St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon. Matt Taylor’s side controlled the majority of play, but they couldn’t find a way past Scott Flinders in the Robins goal.
The hosts started the stronger of the two sides and forced a couple of early corners, with Randell Williams producing a neat piece of skill out on the right as he nutmegged a Cheltenham defender and sent a cross into the area. However, Alex Fisher couldn’t take advantage of the delivery, missing the ball by a matter of inches.
Ryan Bowman was next to go close as he looked to break the deadlock midway through the first-half. Unfortunately, he pulled his angled shot wide of the far post from the right-hand side of the box.
Taylor’s wing-backs were proving to be dangerous weapons as Williams and Jack Sparkes offered significant threats down either side. The latter stung Flinders’ palms in the Cheltenham goal with a strike from the edge of the area, before his counterpart continued to cause problems down the Robins’ right. He won the ball down in the corner, but couldn’t find Fisher in the 18-yard box with the following pass.
With Fisher and Bowman struggling to find space in-and-around the Cheltenham box, it was Pierce Sweeney who had the clearest opening of the first 45. He found himself in acres of room and with the goal at his mercy, yet couldn’t guide his volley past a diving Flinders.
Michael Duff was becoming an increasingly frustrated figure on the touchline, the visitors having been restricted to a handful of half-chances. By the time the break arrived, the Robins had had scarcely any shots on Jonny Maxted’s goal.
Cheltenham were more assured after the interval and enjoyed a short spell in the Exeter half, with the Grecians ‘keeper called into action for the first time as he came to take hold of Sean Long’s bobbling effort. The hosts responded with an attack of their own, which saw Williams’ attempt blocked, followed by Fisher throwing himself at a devilish delivery across goal. However, he was, once again, unable to connect.
Ryan Broom began finding space in between the lines for Cheltenham, and his pass put Luke Varney through on goal, only for Aaron Martin to slide in and deny the striker as he seemed destined to put his side in front.
Fisher was replaced by Lee Martin shortly after the hour mark, the substitute giving Exeter a focal point up front. It was his low cross which was turned goalwards by Robins skipper Ben Tozer, but Flinders saved down to his right to prevent an own-goal from his captain.
The Grecians thought they should have been awarded a penalty when Martin went to ground in the box, yet their cries were waved away by the unmoved referee. Mere moments later, Cheltenham again escaped going behind, with Bowman not able to take down Nigel Atangana’s header inside the area. It was a similar story for Gavin Reilly at the other end as he was snuffed out by the Exeter backline as he looked to pull the trigger.
It looked like it would take something special to unlock either defence and, as the clock ticked past 75 minutes, Williams almost produced it. However, the right wing-back couldn’t quite produce the fireworks, watching his shot fly wide of the back-stick after cutting inside on his left foot.
A smart free-kick routine almost caught Cheltenham out, Matt Jay finding Williams, who had gotten in behind the visitors’ defence. He was denied a late opportunity to win the contest by Tozer, the centre-back intercepting the cross just before it reached the lurking winger.
Conor Thomas almost stole all three points for Cheltenham in the final minute, but he couldn’t guide his effort on target from inside the area.
A victory would’ve been a massive result for Duff’s men, though they’ll be glad to have taken a point back to Gloucestershire as they continue their push for promotion. Failing to win means the Grecians miss out on a spot in the automatic promotion places in League Two, with City sitting in fifth place instead.