From the moment Andy Marriott pulled his hamstring in the warm up, to be replaced in the starting line-up by Paul Jones, you could have been forgiven for thinking that it maybe wasn't going to be City's day. That the team did little to warrant anything going their way underlined what a poor day it was for Paul Tisdale's team as Brighton ran out deserved 2-0 winners at the Withdean. With a rare start for Neil Saunders and a first start for on loan Marcus Haber City lined up: Jones, Tully, Taylor, Edwards, Golbourne, Saunders, Harley, Duffy Sercombe, Stewart, Haber.
To say the game got off to a laboured start would be an understatement. Save for Brighton forcing a couple of corners and a shot high and wide there was little of note. However, it was noticeable that the home side were the ones on the front foot and City were finding it difficult to gain much quality possession or get the ball upto Haber.
And that was pretty much the pattern of the game. Brighton looked dangerous on the left through Lualua especially and Tully was left exposed on occasions which didn't bode well. The home side had the ball in the net on 26 minutes after Jones had made the first real save of the match from close range, but the linesman's flag ruled out the goal for offside.
But it was only a moment's reprieve for Exeter. From the previous free kick Brighton attacked and earned a corner. It was swung in form City's right and Elphick rose unchallenged 6 yards out to head in off the upright.
The remainder of the half was played in the same fashion. Stewart, returning after injury, was rarely in the game, Haber was finding space at a premium, the midfield weren't able to find any rhythm and consequently the back 4 were coming under increasing pressure. When they had time to play balls out though they were not finding their target and Brighton would be on the front foot again.
Jones made one excellent save in the 40th minute. A free kick was fired across goal towards the far post. No striker got a touch but Jones reacted superbly to stick out a foot to turn the ball round the post.
The half ended with City still on the back foot, but without Brighton keeping any sustained pressure. But at least they had threatened and broken the deadlock so the ball was very much in City's court for the second half.
And they came out with a purpose. The tempo seemed better and City gained their first corner. It didn't amount to anything but the signs, briefly, were positive. Until Edwards was penalised, and booked, for a foul on 49 minutes. The ball was floated towards the 18 yard box and headed away. It only found Gary Dicker 30 yards out and central. The ball fell perfectly for him to execute an exquisite volley over Jones to put the hosts 2 up. It was a stunner, in every sense, even from the distance of the away end.
As the game went forward the pattern of the first half re-emerged. On the hour Logan replaced the ineffective Stewart and finally City had their first shot in anger as Sercombe fired wide from 20 yards. Then Fleetwood and Dunne came on for Haber and Duffy and some neat passing got Logan into the penalty area. But the angle was against him and he could only slide the ball into the side netting. I will mention Brezovan in the home goal at this point as narrowing the angle was about the first real work he'd needed to do all game.
Brighton didn't need to, and weren't, pressing much. In between a couple of substitutions Taylor had a penalty appeal turned down as he looked to shoot inside the penalty area.
The game then started to stretch a little as City left gaps for Brighton to exploit and Jones had to make another save low to his right.
As time wound down City finally made a clear cut chance. Fleetwood and Logan combined to free Tully on the right. His cross was perfect for Saunders who met the ball 8 yards out centrally with Brezovan scrambling across goal. But he didn't get his technique right and his header went tamely wide.
Deep into 4 minutes of added time Fleetwood finally made Brezovan save and Dunne fired the rebound over. The referee soon brought City's miserable afternoon to an end.
So it's now 2 wins in 17 and a run of form that needs to be broken if City are to have any chance to climb away from a very real relegation battle. What do they need? A break, some confidence, belief, one of the senior players to pull out an inspiring performance? Whatever it is they need to find it quick or League 2 beckons.
The inspiration may come next week as Oldham visit SJP and we celebrate the reunion of our victorious 1989-90 Championship winning team. The names of Miller, Hiley, Taylor, Neville, Dryden, Rowbotham, Kelly, McNichol, Young roll off the tongue for City fans of a certain age. The 2009-10 vintage may not have quite the flavour of those but Jones, Tully, Taylor, Harley et al have a chance to steady the foundation and cement City's remarkable rise over the last 3 years. Whether or not they can take that chance remains to be seen.