Exeter City exorcised the demons of last April by running out 3-2 winners against Rochdale at Spotland.
After an even opening encounter, quick-fire goals by Pat Baldwin
and John O’Flynn
suddenly put the Grecians in the driving seat.
A second before the break for O’Flynn gave Exeter a three-goal cushion at half-time. Terry Gornell netted for the Dale midway through the second period to make things twitchy.
Gornell then headed in a second on the stroke of 90 minutes, with the Grecians living dangerously. His afternoon came to an early end though when he was shown a straight red soon after, and Exeter held out during the four added minutes to take all three points back from Lancashire.
Exeter settled early and strung together some early spells of possession. However it was a more direct ball which created the first opportunity, as Matt Oakley
’s threaded ball released Jamie Cureton
, but he fired over on his left foot.
then had an opportunity to break the deadlock when a foul on Liam Sercombe
resulted in a free-kick just outside the box. The Scotsman’s shot got up and down over the wall, but flashed a whisker wide of the upright.
The Dale’s main goal-threat looked to be coming through youngster Bobby Grant, who received a cross-field ball on the right and cut inside Craig Woodman
, but Artur Krysiak
was alert to turn the ball around the post.
Grant then turned provider as he swung in a cross towards strike-partner George Donnelly, but he could only steer his header wide from six yards.
The Grecians took a deserving lead midway through the first half after sustaining a spell of pressure. O’Flynn rose well to meet a ball into the box allowing Pat Baldwin
– still up from a set-piece – to stab home unchallenged.
To the consternation of the home fans, the lead was doubled moments later. Liam Sercombe
’s ball into the right channel saw Cureton beat the offside trap, and he cut back from the byline, to O’Flynn who was tasked with poking home from under the crossbar.
It got even better for the travelling fans before the interval when a third goal followed. Oakley took his time before releasing Woodman on the left flank, and his early ball from deep had Josh Lillis scrambling. The goalkeeper checked for Cureton at the near post but the ball found its way through to O’Flynn who scrambled the ball in unchallenged.
Dale arguably hadn’t been playing badly enough to merit being three goals behind and Andrew Tutte had been one of their brighter sparks. He collected a ball that was only half-cleared and fired firmly, but it was straight down the throat of Krysiak.
Half-time: Rochdale 0 Exeter City 3
Exeter began the second half with the same level of intensity and refused to let Rochdale back into the match cheaply. Grant carved a chance for himself early in the second period but he lashed at it somewhat, putting it high and wide.
Grant again showed how he had already reached double-figures for the season by tricking his way into space in front of goal. Krysiak couldn’t hold his drilled effort and got down brilliantly to block Donnelly’s follow-up.
However the Dale were offered a lifeline back into the fixture midway through the second period. A shot by Grant was first blocked but allowed to bobble around in the box. A series of clean challenges saw the ball break fortuitously to Gornell, who placed the ball beyond Krysiak.
The Grecians suddenly looked a touch nervous at the back and could have been pegged back further when a left-wing cross found Grant unmarked in the six-yard box, but he directed his downward header inexplicably wide.
Tutte was next to chance his arm, but with plenty of bodies around him, he could only steer his shot over the bar from outside the area. He had another chance soon after on his left foot, but pulled it wide.
Ryan Bennett fancied his chances on the half-volley shortly after and hit his shot with venom. However Krysiak’s positioning allowed him to collect the ball without hassle.
The away fans had more reason to feel twitchy as Gornell netted his second in the closing moments. A ball in from the right was headed in unchallenged at the near post, just as the fourth official was announcing four added minutes.
But the Rochdale striker had a sour end to his afternoon after seeing a straight red in stoppage time.
And Exeter cleared their lines well in the final moments to hold out for a fantastic victory.
Full-time: Rochdale 2 Exeter City 3
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty (Putterill 63), Bennett, Cavanagh, R.Edwards, Kennedy, Tutte, Donnelly, P.Edwards, Grant, Gornell.
Subs (not used): Barry-Murphy, Grimes, Adebola, Pearson, Craney, Smith.
Goals: Gornell (65, 90).
Sent-off: Gornell (90).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Coles, Baldwin, Woodman; Sercombe, Keohane (Davies 68), Oakley; Gow (Dawson 82); O’Flynn (Amankwaah 82), Cureton.
Subs (not used): Evans, Chamberlain, Reid, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Baldwin (24), O’Flynn (27, 40).
Referee: J. Simpson