Exeter City came from behind to defeat league leaders Wycombe Wanderers 2-1 at St James Park.
Despite trailing to an early Peter Murphy goal, the Grecians responded well through a well-taken goal by David Wheeler
after Graham Cummins
had a shot saved.
And in the second half it was captain Scot Bennett
that hammered in from close range to complete the turnaround and secure the points.
missed out injured in the only change, with David Wheeler
stepping into the starting XI and Ollie Watkins
taking a seat on the bench.
After a minute’s applause to celebrate the life of Arnold Mitchell, the visiting Chairboys kicked off and went immediately on the attack and trying to stretch centre-half and captain Scot Bennett
down their inside-right channel.
Parity lasted until just the sixth minute when the Chairboys went ahead through Murphy. It was a cross from the left flank by Sam Wood which found the forehead of the midfielder, who guided his effort inside the far post to give the visitors a lead.
The deficit served to galvanise the Grecians, who twice went close to grabbing an equaliser within minutes. First Craig Woodman
flighted a ball from deep into the path of Wheeler, but he couldn’t quite control as it dropped to him in the box, and then a dissecting ball from Matt Grimes
found the run of Graham Cummins
, who dragged a shot narrowly wide of the far post as the angle narrowed.
Only the fingertips of Christy Pym
prevented the Chairboys extending the lead before the 20-minute mark, as Max Kretzschmar caught Matt Grimes
in possession in the City half – he set away Paul Hayes with a first-time ball and the striker was denied by a stretching save by the City stopper.
Wheeler almost earned a fortuitous goal with sheer tenacity – his mazy run was ended as he overran the ball, but he closed down goalkeeper Matt Ingram well. The stopper’s clearance cannoned off Wheeler’s legs and mercifully over the bar.
But it was indeed Wheeler that got the leveller; Cummins was played through onside by Wheeler and the striker saw his initial shot saved, but the former Staines man was alive to follow in and hammered home in front of the Big Bank with 26 minutes played.
The Chairboys could well have gone ahead for a second time as full-back Joe Jacobson sent in a low shot from the left which almost rounded off a great attacking move, but captain Bennett scrambled back to clear off the line.
It was almost a quick turnaround for Exeter as Woodman released Wheeler down the left – he delivered a low ball for Jimmy Keohane
, whose first-time effort was inadvertently blocked by Cummins, and on the follow-up Grimes shot over the crossbar.
Half-time: Exeter City 1 Wycombe Wanderers 1
City began with a different approach in the second period, as Bennett manned a forward position. Wycombe started quickly again and a hooked cross from Hayes found Wood, who acrobatically volleyed over – though the assistant’s flag had already been raised.
Wheeler came close to adding his second when a direct ball forward saw Bennett hold off his man for the City winger to come around the corner – Wheeler struck hard and low as he entered the box but Ingram was well-placed to save.
Bennett then had a chance when Wheeler headed back into the danger zone as he met a diagonal to the right flank, but couldn’t quite generate power with a first-time effort.
However he did get his goal on the hour-mark – it was he that won a free-kick in a dangerous positioned by the already-booked Aaron Pierre, giving Grimes a chance to deliver.
The midfielder put a ball into the danger area from the right with an inswinging delivery – Cummins forced a scrambling save from goalkeeper Ingram, but Bennett followed in quickly and smashed the ball high into the net to give City a lead for the first time.
Exeter were almost pegged back again by substitute Matt Bloomfield – just two minutes after being introduced from the bench, he was presented with a golden chance just ten yards out, but contrived to fire over Christy Pym
There was consternation when Wheeler was bundled down in the area after a period of prolonged Grecians possession – however the referee waved away the claims and allowed Wycombe to clear their lines.
Wycombe, desperate to get back in the game, came piling forward. A deep delivery was headed clear by the all-action Christian Ribeiro
, but allowed Wood to hit a volley. Luckily for Exeter he made the wrong kind of contact and spooned wide.
Exeter had later chances to extend the lead – first a smart throw allowed Bennett to fire a half-volley from range but it was blocked out, before a hanging cross from Arron Davies
founded the head of Keohane, who diverted just over the bar.
The closing stages required Pym to make a few brave diving saves at the feet of visiting attackers. Tom Nichols
and David Noble to both come on and keep the ball high upfield.
Matt McClure’s last-gasp half-volley was blocked out well as City tried to hold on – and the Grecians held out to win.
Full-time: Exeter City 2 Wycombe Wanderers 1
Pym; Butterfield, Ribeiro, Bennett, Woodman, Davies; Grimes, Oakley, Wheeler (Noble 80); Keohane; Cummins (Nichols 87).
Unused subs: Hamon, Riley-Lowe, Tillson, Jay, Watkins.
Goals: Wheeler (26), Bennett (60).
Ingram; Jombati, Mawson, Pierre, Jacobson; Cowan-Hall (Craig 65), Murphy, Scowen, Wood; Kretzschmar (Bloomfield 65); Hayes (McClure 80).
Unused subs: Richardson, Lewis, Rowe, Walker.
Goal: Murphy (6).
Attendance: 3,129 (192 away).
Referee: Charles Breakspear