Exeter City got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win against Torquay United at Plainmoor, and in doing so keeping up the perfect record in West County derbies this season.
It felt like a must-win fixture for the Grecians and that’s precisely what happened – leaving their neighbours from Torquay in the relegation zone going into 2014 and allowing the Grecians to put the play-off spots back into the crosshairs again for the New Year.
The Grecians, however, were let off early on as Karl Hawley saw his spot-kick saved by Artur Krysiak
after Billy Bodin drew a foul just inside the area. And instead the deadlock was broken at the other end by a ripping strike by Tom Nichols
towards the end of the first period.
doubled the lead on the hour mark with a fine solo run and finish, but Karl Hawley set up a nervy final 15 minutes with a close-range finish for Torquay to make it 2-1.
But Alan Gow
’s persistence gave City a third and the win with five minutes to go, as Exeter tasted more derby-day delight.
once again took the captain’s armband in the continued absence of Danny Coles
after his knee surgery. Matt Oakley
’s long-term ankle injury made him the only other Grecian absentee, with Liam Sercombe
claiming his 200th appearance as a professional City player.
The only City change from the Boxing Day clash against Cheltenham was the reintroduction of Sam Parkin
in place of Matt Grimes
, while John Marquis, the Gulls’ Millwall loanee, missed out completely for the hosts.
It was something of an agricultural start from both teams as the derby-day atmosphere prevented either team getting into any flow. The referee was also quick to the whistle which didn’t help the game’s fluidity.
However referee Attwell was given no option but to blow up and point to the spot when Damien Mozika linked up on the right with Billy Bodin, and the latter drew a foul from Sercombe as he burst into the box.
But it was a let-off for the Grecians as Hawley’s penalty was read all the way by Krysiak, who got firm fists on the ball to turn the ball away low to his left.
The first goal could have gone City’s way instead at the other end, as Alan Gow
triggered a fine counter and pinged a ball into the feet of Tom Nichols
, who drew a foul from Tom Cruise. Gow could only hammer against the wall from the resultant free-kick from 25 yards.
, unfortunately, was an early casualty for the Grecians as he was replaced with just a quarter of an hour played after over-stretching for the ball. Matt Grimes
was the man to take his place.
then found space on the right to drill across the ball across the face, which didn’t test the goalkeeper and saw no City bodies arriving to meet it.
The hosts were let off again when a heavy touch outside his own area by Jak McCourt handed the ball to Sam Parkin
, though the striker was quickly closed down and was unable to get a clean shot away. Moments later, the Gulls broke down the right and Bodin’s drilled effort needed saving low by Krysiak before being hooked clear by Sercombe.
Exeter were having to withstand plenty of pressure from the home side, but a moment of quality by Nichols brought game’s opening goal. Parkin played in his strike-partner and made some space with a decoy run, and Nichols exploited the space by hitting a firecracker from 25 yards which caught Michael Poke out at his near post.
Wheeler, who had lost a couple of minutes to a head injury, almost doubled the advantage after firing goalwards after a lung-busting run from the middle of the park – but Poke saved low and Parkin was denied on the follow-up.
Krysiak had to make a fine save to keep up the single-goal lead when Courtney Cameron wriggled clear inside the box and fizzed a low shot on his right foot, but the stopper reacted well to turn it away to keep Exeter ahead going into the interval.
Half-time: Torquay United 0 Exeter City 1
Exeter looked a lot more fluid with their play after the interval and began to build some nice moves – Gow and Wheeler swapped wings during half-time to offer a different type of threat in attack. A nice early move by the Grecians, triggered by Nichols’ pressured, resulted in a curling effort over the bar from the right by Gow.
A nice build-up down the Gulls’ left flank almost resulted in an equaliser as Nathan Cameron found space to cross low, and Hawley couldn’t turn in past the well-positioned Krysiak between the sticks.
Instead, it was Exeter that doubled the lead through a brilliant run by Wheeler. Released down the left by Parkin, the winger nipped past Dale Tonge and Anthony O’Connor in succession before pulling the trigger and finding the bottom corner.
Bodin tried to cut the deficit by popping a shot away from the right – and while it had plenty of power, the direction was lacking.
The Gulls did find their way back into the game through Hawley, who finally hooked in as substitute Elliot Benyon stood up a tempting cross for the striker.
City might have re-established the two-goal cushion as a ball hooked forward by Scot Bennett
released Nichols – the striker couldn’t quite pick out sub Arron Davies
, and Grimes shanked his effort into the stand.
But Gow secured the margin and a City win five minutes from time, capitalising on some indecision in the Gulls’ rearguard. The Scotsman gambled on a ball forward and despite the best efforts of O’Connor to perturb the attacker, Gow hit beyond Poke for 3-1.
Torquay tried to scramble the ball into the net late on but were denied by some stout defending, and Wheeler was denied his second at the other end with a left-footed shot being blocked outside the area.
Full-time: Torquay United 1 Exeter City 3
Torquay United: Poke; Tonge, Downes, O’Connor, Cruise; Cameron (Chapell 75), Mansell, Mozika, McCourt (Benyon 68) Bodin; Hawley.
Subs: Rice, Pearce, Craig, Chaney, Sullivan.
Goal: Hawley (74).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Butterfield, Baldwin, Bennett, Moore-Taylor; Wheeler, Sercombe, Gill (Grimes 15), Gow (Keohane 88); Parkin (Davies 78), Nichols.
Subs: Pym, Woodman, Reid, O’Flynn.
Goals: Nichols (38), Wheeler (60), Gow (85).
Attendance: 4,231 (1,255 away)
Referee: S. Attwell