Exeter fell to a single-goal defeat to Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road on Boxing Day as the hosts were 1-0 winners.
The game followed the script that City fans didn’t want to read, as former Exeter striker Jamie Cureton was the man to net the only goal in the 13th minute.
City turned on the pressure in the second period and peppered Scott Brown’s goal, but the stopper was in fine form to keep out the waves of City attacks. Cureton also hit the post and Jermaine McGlashan couldn’t quite foil Artur Krysiak
as the Grecians were also subject to threats at the other end.
Former Exeter City striker Cureton led the line for the Robins, and was handed the captain’s armband for the afternoon.
In the continued absence of club captain Danny Coles
to a knee problem, the City armband was handed to Pat Baldwin
who returned to the starting XI. Jordan Moore-Taylor
also began the game at left-back, with Craig Woodman
taking a seat on the bench for the first time in the 2013/14 season.
The game was lively from the off and Cureton was the first to get a shot away as he made space in the area – however his shot from a tight angle was powerful but wayward.
At the other end, Danny Butterfield
was supporting the play well and put in a couple of crosses that had the home defence having to scramble. Sido Jombati fluffed a clearance from one testing ball that City couldn’t quite pounce on.
had to demonstrate his elasticity from testing efforts by David Noble and Matt Richards, both of which had plenty of venom and needed palming away.
But the deadlock was broken early by none other than Cureton, who finished with typically clinical fashion. It was a simple long ball towards the towering figure of Byron Harrison who nodded into a dangerous area, and Cureton gently poked past the advancing Krysiak and across the line.
Cheltenham didn’t punish a Scot Bennett
error as the centre-half was caught in possession midway inside his own half. Harrison, the benefactor, drove goalwards but tried to lob the ball over Krysiak when he could have kept going.
City had looked a little rattled, but as they began to settle again they did create some openings. A nice break by the Grecians saw Liam Sercombe
slip a well-weighted ball to Alan Gow
, but the Scotsman’s ball for Tom Nichols
had a touch too much on it.
Gow then drew a foul after a 60-yard downfield burst on the counter, but Sercombe’s free-kick was down the throat of stopper Scott Brown.
The hosts had opportunities to make a cushion for themselves but Cureton looped a shot over after a scramble and Connor Goldson lashed a shot after nice play down the right by Jermaine McGlashan, but it was deflected away.
Despite the first-half pressure on Krysiak’s goal, City might have gotten level before the interval. The best Exeter move of the half saw the Grecians progress upfield and Gow slipped in Nichols, who had to cross when he was forced wide. A nice ball in was prodded into Sercombe’s path, but the midfielder’s effort found bodies in the way.
And then a ball into the right area by Matt Grimes
sent David Wheeler
racing clear, but he opted to shoot with his right when it probably favoured a left-foot swinger, and it drifted wide of the near post.
Half-time: Cheltenham Town 1 Exeter City 0
City’s best chance of the game came within moments of the restart as an up-and-under ball by Baldwin found the head of Gow for a flick-on, and Wheeler’s drilled effort found Scott Brown in a good position to parry away.
And minutes later Nichols brought the best out of goalkeeper Brown once again as he made space for himself. He received the ball from Gow and used the runners as a distraction before pulling the trigger, but the goalkeeper saved well.
Brown again foiled Nichols when City hassled the ball back high upfield – Nichols simply drove towards the box and unleashed a stinging effort which the goalkeeper had covered.
Cureton nearly added a second for Cheltenham and himself as he arrived late at the far post to get his head onto a Jason Taylor cross, but it hit the base of the post.
Wheeler then raked a cross-field ball to Gow who hammered a first-time volley out of the air. It would have been goal of the season if it had rippled the net, but instead it flew a yard or two over the Robins bar.
And he was even closer to producing an elusive equaliser when Nichols drew a foul on the edge of the area – Gow dipped a free-kick over the wall which clipped the outside of the post.
City were exerting all the pressure as the clock ran down and were nearly caught on the break – McGlashan escaped inside the box and drew a save from Krysiak, and Jordan Moore-Taylor
cleared Harrison’s follow-up off the line.
Wheeler snatched a late chance to equalise when he missed the target as the ball squirmed to him in the area, and Sercombe was oh so close to earning a last-gasp equaliser from outside the area when he smashed a volley which drew another fine stop from Brown.
Full-time: Cheltenham Town 1 Exeter City 0
Cheltenham Town: S.Brown; Jombati, T.Brown, Goldson, Braham-Barrett; Taylor, Noble (Penn 57), McGlashan, Richards; Cureton (Roofe 76), Harrison (Gornell 85).
Subs: Roberts, Deering, Vincent, Ajala.
Goal: Cureton (13).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Butterfield, Baldwin, Bennett (Gosling 88), Moore-Taylor; Wheeler, Sercombe, Gill, Grimes (Parkin 62); Gow; Nichols.
Subs: Pym, Woodman, Davies, Doherty, Keohane.
Attendance: 3,562 (437 away)
Referee: S. Hooper