It was a mixed day for Exeter City, following a second successive goalless draw, 0-0 at Oldham Athletic. On the one hand the goal drought continues but there was plenty of spirited play on show today and defensively things appear to have tightened up considerably in recent weeks.
There were two changes made from the previous match, another stalemate at home to Hartlepool. Jake Taylor returned to the starting line-up in place of Daniel Nardiello and Scot Bennett replaced the injured Liam Sercombe. Not for the first time this season, Bennett was deployed just in front of the back-four and the youngster appears to possess the discipline and concentration to perform this role well. It was an effective move by Tisdale in combatting both the physical Oldham attack and the difficult weather conditions.
In front of the defensive unit were David Noble and James Dunne, with Jake Taylor sometimes dropping back to the left of midfield to form a 4-1-3-2 formation but also joining Guillem Bauza and Richard Logan up-front when necessary.
The opening minutes saw both sides mount early attacks that were thwarted by an offside flag. The 183 visiting supporters were housed in the same stand behind the goal as many of the home fans and taunted them with topical jibes about whether they have ever played Brazil, as well as reminding them that their team squandered a three goal lead in the same fixture last season.
Boundary Park is the highest ground in League One and it showed today as strong winds throughout the game had an effect on the play for both teams, as well as making for a cold afternoon for those in the stands.
City started brightly and on the quarter-hour, a corner was partially cleared only as far as Richard Duffy just outside the box, who hit a clean left-foot shot on the half-volley that was well saved by Cisak in the Oldham goal.
Shortly after, Chris Taylor found himself unmarked at the back-post as a deep cross came over but could not direct his header on target.
As the half wore on, Oldham began to exert more pressure as Exeter found playing into the wind difficult - long kicks frequently missed their target by some distance or sailed out of play. City's passing game was only glimpsed occasionally, usually when the wind died down for a few minutes but this was few and far between.
An Oldham free-kick from a wide position was knocked down to Tom Adeyemi whose fierce shot struck the bar, possibly as a result of a fingertip save from Artur Krysiak. There was plenty of action in the Grecians' goalmouth following this but the defenders did well to restrict Oldham to half-chances and where the back-four were struggling, Bennett was usually on-hand to snuff out any danger.
Towards the end of the half, Logan slipped in Scott Golbourne down the left-hand channel but Dunne was unable to reach his teasing cross and a trademark Troy Archibald-Henville run from his own half straight down the throat of the Oldham defence almost resulted in him playing Bauza through on goal but a defender was able to intercept.
The Siege Army was keeping a continuous chant of 'We're the Red & White Army' going for over 15 minutes, as much to keep themselves warm as to urge on the players. As the half drew to a close, a flick-on was missed by Troy and seized on by Kuqi but Krysiak made a sliding tackle that prevented the shot at the expense of a corner.
The second-half saw City's passing game fire into life much more than it had in the previous forty-five minutes. Jake Taylor broke into some space in the box after Oldham failed to deal with a corner but the keeper made a fine save with his legs.
On 56 minutes, Bauza was withdrawn for Nardiello and soon after City's top-scorer was chasing a long, high ball played by Noble over the top of the defence but the keeper rushed out to get to it just in time.
Oldham's best spell of the half came about half-way through but their finishing let them down. Morais shot wastefully over from a good position as Duffy was unable to get a tackle in and shortly after a weak defensive header fell to a blue shirt inside the area but the attempted shot struck only thin-air.
Oldham's best chance came from some sloppy play between Troy and Noble, who contrived to give the ball away close to goal and were relieved that the resulting shot across Krysiak was narrowly wide.
By this time, John O'Flynn had replaced Logan and the forward trio finally started to threaten the Oldham defence in the closing stages. In the last five minutes of normal time, the game suddenly became stretched as tired legs began to struggle in the windy conditions. Nardiello especially saw a lot of the ball down the left-hand side and created the Grecians' two best chances.
Both times he managed to get to the by-line and work his way towards goal, his first-pull back falling to Dunne, whose eventual shot struck O'Flynn and deflected to safety, and his second a few minutes later picking out the Irishman whose shot was blocked on the line by a defender.
In injury time, Oldham almost stole the three points with a good cross that was headed wide from close range and Nardiello was unable to create any further chances when he received the ball on the counter-attack.
The final whistle sounded and the players acknowledged the effort made by the travelling fans.
Overall, it was difficult day for good football to shine through but both defences will be pleased with their afternoon's work and City can take heart from a third clean-sheet in a row ahead of the visit of Charlton next week.
Meanwhile at St James Park the Under 18s claimed a Premier League scalp in the Youth Alliance Cup with a penalty shoot-out victory over Queen's Park Rangers after a 1-1 draw. Keep visiting the Official Website for a full run down on a fantastic win.