Exeter City twice came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw with high-flying Fleetwood Town in an open encounter at St James’ Park.
Steve McNulty’s header gave the visitors a lead before Jamie Cureton finished off a neat move to equalise for the hosts. The Trawlermen went into the break ahead thanks to Nicholson’s firm finish, but a second-half spot-kick by John O’Flynn earned the Grecians a point.
Paul Tisdale had named an unchanged starting line-up after the Grecians’ midweek victory against AFC Wimbledon. The newly-promoted Lancashire side, placed fourth before kick-off, boasted former Premier League player Barry Ferguson amongst their ranks.
The Trawlermen didn’t take long to fire the warning signals, as Steve McNulty and Barry Nicholson fizzed shots either side of Artur Krysiak’s post in the opening minutes.
And the traveling side were first to find the net in the 12th minute. Dean Howell’s pinpoint free-kick from the right touchline picked out the head of McNulty, and the centre-half nodded beyond the reach of Krysiak.
The Grecians were intent on getting a foothold back into the game though, and minutes later the Cod Army’s defence allowed a ball to bounce through for John O’Flynn to run onto. The Irishman laid in Cureton, but Fleetwood stopper Scott Davies turned the forward's effort around the post.
But City were level soon enough, when some superb footwork from Alan Gow on the right wing carved open the opposition defence. After receiving the ball from Cureton, the Scotsman foxed the defenders before disguising a ball into Cureton, and the veteran ran on to loop an effort into the top corner.
Exeter’s attacking trio nearly struck again when Gow released O’Flynn on the right-wing, but Cureton couldn’t generate any power into his shot after O’Flynn cut back from the byline.
However Fleetwood re-established their advantage before the break through Barry Nicholson. Former Scottish international Ferguson saw a gap in the Grecians’ defensive line and played a dissecting through-ball for his countryman, who finished with composure into the bottom corner.
O’Flynn almost drew Exeter level immediately afterwards when Liam Sercombe escaped on the right flank, but the ball was a little behind the striker as it came over, who could only nod wide of the near post.
Half-time: Exeter City 1 Fleetwood Town 2
Play was interrupted early in the second period as Ferguson came out worse from a challenge and had to receive treatment on the field.
And the Grecians were soon back level for the second time when the ever-lively Cureton was scythed down in the penalty area by Youl Mawene. O’Flynn stepped up to take the spot-kick, and dispatched it well beyond the reach of Davies and into the top corner.
The fans in the Big Bank thought the Grecians had been awarded a second penalty moments later when O’Flynn was taken down in the left-hand channel, but the referee pointed down for a goal-kick rather than a penalty.
Fleetwood’s lone striker David Ball then carved a chance for himself with some neat tricks on the left, but Krysiak had his angles covered when he struck from a wide position.
Neither team were able to really assert long spells of dominance, meaning the game entered the final throes balanced delicately, with both sides believing they could steal the three points.
In the final minute, Gow’s short corner routine led to him whipping a corner in for Danny Coles, but the Cod Army’s goalkeeper reacted quickly to turn over the bar.
Then Fleetwood had another effort of their own when Junior Brown took down a lofted ball in the box, but a perfect tackle by Steve Tully denied the winger a chance to shoot.
And the scores remained level when the referee brought proceedings to a close, leaving City with a share of the spoils.
Full-time: Exeter City 2 Fleetwood Town 2
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Coles, Baldwin, Woodman; Sercombe, Bennett, Oakley; Gow; Cureton, O’Flynn.
Subs (not used): Evans, Doherty, Amankwaah, Nichols, Keohane, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Cureton (24), O’Flynn (pen 57).
Fleetwood Town: Davies; Beeley, McNulty, Mawene, Howell; Obeng (Barkhuizen 64), Nicholson, Ferguson, McGuire, Brown; Ball.
Subs (not used): Maxwell, Milligan, Fowler, Goodall, McLaughlin, Marrow.
Goals: McNulty (13), Nicholson (41).
Attendance: 3540 (56 away)