The Grecians fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Mansfield Town on Saturday in Sky Bet League 2.
First-half goals from Rakish Bingham – making his debut for Mansfield – and Fergus Bell gave the Stags a two-goal advantage at the interval.
, on from the bench, netted a stunning free-kick for a reinvigorated City side after the break.
But the home side couldn’t force that equaliser and ultimately were downed 2-1 by their guests from Nottinghamshire.
With players returning to fitness, Christian Ribeiro
and Alex Nicholls went straight into the starting XI for their debuts – it was a first start in the Football League for Nicholls for almost two years. Jordan Moore-Taylor
also returned, taking a place at centre-half after missing the start of the season with a foot injury.
Fresh from international duty with England’s Under-20s, Christy Pym
started between the sticks for the Grecians, while Matt Grimes
began on the bench.
And even start saw some good football from both teams but the two keepers were relatively untested. Graham Cummins
’ looping header from a high cross was the closest either team came to earning an opener in the first ten minutes.
Cummins won a free-kick outside the area with some smart forward play – that allowed an intelligent set-piece by Matt Oakley
and Liam Sercombe
to tee up Craig Woodman
to strike from 25 yards. The effort nicked off a Stags head and out for a corner.
The deadlock was broken at the other end by Stags debutant Bingham. Bell hit a half-volley with venom in the right channel which was kept out initially by Pym, only for the former Wigan man to hammer in from inside the area with a quarter of an hour played.
Bingham was certainly the dangerman for the visitors and he linked up again with Bell for the latter to strike from outside the D – a deflection off a Grecian foot took the ball wide of Pym’s post.
A goal to the good, Mansfield were making the majority of the chances and good defending was needed to deny Bingham another route to goal, with Moore-Taylor holding the striker up well.
Bingham was released through on goal with a direct ball upfield which fooled everyone except the striker – Pym made a superb save in the one-on-one to deny the striker a second.
However Bell finally knocked the door down for a second time on 40 minutes with a thunderbolt of a second – he cracked a scorching volley just inside the post from outside the area, with the aerial ball having only been half-cleared.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Mansfield Town 2
Exeter came out with a bit more zip after the break – Grimes replaced Pat Baldwin
at the break and looked to get onto the ball early, and almost released Cummins only for Dimitar Evtimov to charge off his line to clear.
Cummins won a free-kick just outside the box which allowed Woodman to tee up Liam Sercombe
, but the midfielder could only strike into the base of the wall.
The Grecians continued to press for their first goal and some good work down the left allowed Cummins to set Woodman to cross for the far post – Ribeiro’s downward header just evaded everyone as Mansfield cleared their lines.
, who was playing on the left of the attack after the break, twice cut in off the flank to shoot, only for late blocks to deny the midfielder. Sercombe too wound one up at the second attempt and again it was blocked out in the area.
But the fight-back looked to be on when Grimes scored a stunning effort with a free-kick. Mansfield sub Rob Taylor was booked for a poorly timed challenge on right, and from the narrowest of angles, the midfielder punished the Stags with a free-kick that nestled inside the far post.
Exeter’s resurgence wasn’t ever really allowed to build in momentum with the Stags doing their utmost to eat up the clock by any means necessary.
Substitute Jimmy Keohane
almost had the chance to pull the trigger after slaloming through the defence – the referee called back the play for an earlier challenge though to the frustration of the home fans.
Keohane was allowed space to shoot but his firm effort was wide of the target.
The Big Bank were up in arms when Ryan Tafazolli appeared to handle in the area – Cummins in particular was infuriated that the decision was just a corner to City.
As the game ticked into the six minutes of added time, a low cross from Wheeler was just turned over the bar by Keohane on the stretch as he arrived late in the area.
It was the last opportunity of the game as Mansfield did their all to protect their lead and eat away at the clock, which ultimately allowed the Stags to travel back to the Midlands with the three points.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Mansfield Town 2
Pym; Ribeiro (Keohane 62), Bennett, Baldwin (Grimes 46), Moore-Taylor (Nichols 62), Woodman; Sercombe, Oakley, Wheeler, Nicholls; Cummins.
Subs: Hamon, Butterfield, Davies, Tillson.
Goal: Grimes (67).
Evtimov; Sutton (Taylor 55), Riley, Tafazolli; Marsden, Murray, McGuire, Beevers, Bell (Heslop 64); Rhead, Bingham (Palmer 77).
Subs: Studer, Clements, Fisher, Thomas.
Goal: Bingham (15), Bell (40).
Attendance: 2,771 (137 away).
Referee: Tim Robinson