Rochdale recorded their first victory at St James Park in 13 years as they turned a 1-0 deficit on its head late on to win 2-1.
The game had been on a knife-edge throughout with both teams providing plenty of opportunities to produce, much to the gratification of Jamie Cureton
who responded by putting Exeter ahead on the stroke of half-time.
The Dale, though, never gave up the ghost, continuing to press to the last and were duly rewarded with late goals from Ian Henderson and Bobby Grant to come away with an invaluable three points at the expense of the Grecians.
Amankwaah looked to have been rested following the workout at Home Park, so did not form part of the starting line against his former club. Elliott Chamberlain
was recalled into the matchday squad following his loan away from St James Park.
Rochdale’s intent was clear, making a quick start to the game in chilly conditions as they burst down the right hand flank with a nifty one-two. The spurt, though, was brought to a quick halt as Ashley Grimes was felled by a 50-50 challenged. What followed was rather worrying as he rolled over through the advertising boards at speed, causing the game to come to an early halt with the board demolished.
The Grecians’ first sight of goal came after Guillem Bauza
won a free kick half way inside Rochdale’s half. Craig Woodman
lofted the free-kick high inside the penalty area with the keeper getting sandwiched between a number of bodies, but the looping header that came from the rebound didn’t quite make it past the defenders stationed on the goal line.
Exeter maintained the early pressure as a free-kick was curled in by Cureton, flying in low at speed around the right hand side of the wall which demanded an outstanding save from Lillis diving to his left.
Rochdale produced their first real spell of pressure as Michael Rose fed a lovely ball from the sideline to Ashley Grimes inside the penalty area, however his dragged cross low along the ground was hacked away by City defenders.
Roused by this initial momentum, the Dale began to exert some real pressure on City’s defence and find some space near the corner of the penalty area they began to ask some real questions of Craig Woodman
and Artur Krysiak
; the latter going prone to his right to keep out a 25 yard shot from George Donnelly.
In a heart-stopping moment Ian Henderson floated the ball in from the left where Krysiak fumbled it in midair and pushing it onto the head of Cansdell-Sherriff whose header hit the post was desperately cleared by Danny Coles
Rochdale were really looking up for it as they challenged for every ball and were more than willing to chase the Exeter players down. The Grecians were beginning to look a little unnerved, especially when the long ball approached their penalty area.
When Ashley Grimes sent Bobby Grant bursting down the left, the number 22 pulled the ball back onto his left foot and laid it calmly into the path of Henderson – who had time to compose himself – but placed the ball tamely past the right hand post of Krysiak’s goal.
Both teams were successfully venturing forward but clinical finishing was lacking at each end with defenders effectively snuffing what came their way, though the potential was there to see.
With ten minutes left of the half Rochdale would have been happy with their share of the game, having looked dangerous down the right flank on numerous occasions, and would arguably have felt hard done by the blank score line.
It was also clear that Rochdale were not going to spare Exeter any time on the ball in midfield and were operating effectively in this sense.
Indeed almost immediately on the break Rochdale had a shot cleared off the line by the scrambling feet of Krysiak as Henderson honed in slightly inside the right corner of the penalty area. The game certainly wasn’t lacking in chances and entertainment as prospects sat on the cusp.
As half time approached and the Grecians were catching their breath Jamie Cureton
was gifted a swift ball on the edge of the box with his back to goal, turning the defender elegantly at speed as he found himself one-on-one with the keeper, though the purposeful shot was deflected by Lillis as Exeter arguably produced their best chance of the game.
During the three minutes of additional time Bauza – scrambling for a seemingly out-of-reach high ball – punted it out wide to Gosling who found himself in space on the left wing. Gosling looked up, caressing the ball perfectly in the direction of the back post where Cureton chested silkily to the right of the defender and then blasted Exeter ahead, low to the left of Lillis.
Half-time: Exeter City 1 Rochdale 0
The game resumed with Rochdale looking to regain a foothold having swapped Joe Rafferty for Kevin McIntyre at the break. Hope definitely remained for the Dale as Krysiak spilled a seemingly harmless cross for the second time in the game.
Henderson, similar to the first half, was in the thick of the action for Rochdale as the Northerners utilised space effectively down the wings.
, alongside Cureton, was one of the brighter sparks for Exeter in the opening moments of the second half; almost putting the Grecians’ leading scorer into a goal-scoring opportunity again and moving the ball about well.
It was certainly end to end stuff with Ashley Grimes and Henderson reversing the flow of the play at the blink of an eye, forcing Krysiak to make his most calamitous mistake of the game yet. The Pole - under pressure – tried dribbling the ball around Grimes just yards from the goal and losing out (expectedly) to the number 11 whose shot from angle just cleared the post as Grecian fans held their breath.
Grimes was really asking questions of Exeter, this time lining up a direct shot into the stomach of Krysiak as they pushed for an equaliser. The game was definitely in the balance with only the score line separating the two sides.
D’Ath was the first substitute used by Paul Tisdale as Bauza’s afternoon came to end after an energetic performance, whilst Keith Hill soon followed suit, Jason Kennedy coming off for Joe Thompson.
Henderson, almost Liam Brady-esque, was weaving inside and out with the ball, taking players on at ease and on one occasion found Grimes inside the area whose shot was beat away by Krysiak.
One creative pair of boots for another, Jimmy Keohane
was introduced to the game for the producer Gosling on 70 minutes as he was forced to quickly adapt to the speed of the game.
Despite some weary legs Exeter seemed to have learned from Rochdale during the half-time team talk, employing the hassling, high-tempo tactic that the Dale had made the most of earlier in the game.
Rochdale’s intent was clear, pushing all but one defender into the area for a free kick, but were left frustrated as Michael Rose couldn’t beat the first man again.
Worrying for the Grecians Scot Bennett
limped off after staying down for a couple of minutes after a challenge, but fortunately enough came back onto the pitch moments later as Exeter avoided adding to their lengthy injury list.
Exeter won a corner seemingly out of nothing when Jimmy Keohane
used his twinkle toes to weave his away from two Dale defenders on the break, then pushing the ball out wide to Cureton who drilled the ball into a Rochdale defender and out of play, though this came to nothing.
There was still time for Rochdale to grab a goal back, winning free kicks in some promising positions. The City defence was like a blanket though whenever the ball made its way into the area, snuffing out any shots that came in its direction.
With just minutes remaining Rochdale were rewarded for their endurance as a deflected cross from Henderson agonisingly went in off the back post in a goal mouth scramble. The move had started from a searching cross from right to left, which found Henderson inside the penalty area, wriggling away nimbly and pushing the ball towards the corner flag and receiving the ball again shortly after which led to his cross.
The atmosphere was by no means deflated, but certainly frustration filled the air as not much time was left over following the equaliser and Rochdale pressed on for a second, forcing yet another corner.
Cureton was replaced by Chamberlain in the dying moments of the game after pulling up with a hamstring injury, though not before he had forced another corner.
Four minutes of extra-time were signalled as Exeter were left without a recognised striker on the pitch for the remaining moments, but Rochdale were not settling for a draw.
As Bobby Grant – three minutes into stoppage time – was put through by an angled ball, he slotted low past Artur Krysiak
to turn the game on its head was and break Grecian hearts.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Rochdale 2
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Woodman, Baldwin, Coles; Bennett, Davies, Molesley, Gosling (Keohane 70); Bauza (D’Ath 66), Cureton (Chamberlain 90).
Subs (not used): Evans, Amankwaah, Dawson, Moore-Taylor.
Goal: Cureton (45).
Rochdale: Lillis; Rose, Edwards, Cansdell-Sherriff, McIntyre (Rafferty h-t); Grant, Cavanagh; Kennedy (Thompson 65), Grimes; Donnelly, Henderson.
Subs (not used): Barry-Murphy, Collis, Howarth, Gornell, Thomas.
Goals: Henderson (87), Grant (90+3).
Attendance: 3,979 (110 away).
Referee: P. Gibbs