Exeter City fell to defeat at the hands of Rochdale, who were 3-1 winners at Spotland in Sky Bet League 2.
The Grecians would have felt aggrieved to have gone into the interval trailing as a Michael Rose free-kick was the difference, but Alan Gow
drew the sides level within seconds of the restart.
However second-half goals by Graham Cummins and Andrew Tutte confirmed victory for Dale and condemned the Grecians to a long journey back to the West Country.
Grecians manager Paul Tisdale made two changes to the starting XI following last weekend’s defeat to Southend – Gow and John O’Flynn
were reintroduced as starters, with Matt Grimes
and Matt Jay both omitted from the matchday 18.
Alongside fellow striker Sam Parkin
, the returning duet made up a front three, mirroring the Rochdale formation which saw Ian Henderson, Scott Hogan and Graham Cummins man the attack. Tommy Doherty
returned to the bench for City after a one-match suspension.
The three-man attack of Exeter were being supported well by the midfield and were working their way through the field. Matthew Lund and Michael Rose were providing a threat down City’s right. Gow was the first to register a shot from outside the area, but it was blocked out.
The Exeter City bench were up in arms when Matt Gill
squirmed a cross into the box which clearly hit a Rochdale arm – but the referee didn’t even give a head-shake and play continued.
Andrew Tutte was wasteful for the Dale at the other end of the pitch, as a ball cleared into his path 25 yards from goal was picked up and smashed wildly wide of the target. Soon after Cummins climbed high to head goalwards at the back post, but the angle wasn’t favourable and Artur Krysiak
Despite all of City’s bright play in the first period, it was Dale that took the lead. Rose was handed the chance to strike a free-kick after Hogan’s lung-busting run forward resulted in him being felled right outside the area by Pat Baldwin
, whose name was taken for the trouble.
Rose’s left-footed strike curled up and over the wall, and beat Krysiak at his near post to give the Dale a lead.
City were almost gifted a chance to equalise soon after when Gow blocked a clearance high up the field and the ricochet pinged straight into the body of O’Flynn – but it caught the Irishman a little unawares and his first touch didn’t have the requisite delicacy to sit up nicely for him to shoot.
Half-time: Rochdale 1 Exeter City 0
The second half was only moments old when Gow pulled the game back level. A shot by Arron Davies
was deflected into the path of O’Flynn near the left-hand touchline, and the striker had the presence of mind to pull a smart ball back to Gow, who couldn’t miss from ten yards out and central.
City went to three at the back to line up man-for-man with the Dale’s forward players. Gow nearly earned his and Exeter’s second with a jinking run and left-footed strike, which just fizzed past Josh Lillis’s near post.
The Exeter defence was nearly caught out by Henderson, whose industry in the inside-right position allowed him a foray into the box – Krysiak tipped over the bar instinctively. From the resulting flag-kick, Rose volleyed powerfully wide.
The wind looked firmly in Exeter’s sails with a rejuvenated performance, so when the Dale went ahead midway through the second period, it felt like a sucker-punch.
It was Joe Rafferty that swung in a deep cross on his left foot from the right flank for Cummins to apply a deft glancing header, and find the bottom corner.
City underwent a few changes of shape – David Wheeler
’s introduction for Parkin meant a space in the attacking three for Bennett, to complete a hat-trick of positions for the afternoon.
was also throw into the fray to try to make his influence felt, with Gow making way. Soon after his introduction he won the ball high up the field and linked up tidily with fellow sub Wheeler, only to see the eventual ball in dealt with well.
Butterfield was the final introduction for City with ten minutes remaining, as Baldwin departed.
Light on numbers at the rear, it needed a superb tackle by captain Danny Coles
on the cover to deny Rochdale sub Matt Done as he raced clear.
But a third Rochdale goal did come when Tutte received outside the box, turned into space, and fired inside the far post.
City weren’t able to utilise the four additional minutes as Rochdale were sensible with possession and defended stoutly, a sealed a home victory.
Full-time: Rochdale 3 Exeter City 1
Rochdale: Lillis; Rafferty, Eastham, O’Connell, Rose; Tutte, Lancashire, Lund; Hogan (Done 80), Cummins, Henderson.
Subs: Thomson, Vincenti, Hery, Dicker, Allen, Bunney.
Goals: Rose (39), Cummins (65), Tutte (87).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Bennett, Coles, Baldwin (Butterfield 80), Woodman; Sercombe, Gill, Davies; Gow (Keohane 74); Parkin (Wheeler 68), O’Flynn.
Subs: Pym, Nichols, Doherty, Moore-Taylor.
Goal: Gow (46).
Referee: J. Simpson