Exeter City came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against top-of-the-league Luton Town at St James Park.
It was no less than Exeter deserved from a performance which saw the home side control a bulk of the possession and create most of the chances, but it was always going to need a gutsy performance as the Hatters took an early lead.
It was Scott Griffiths that rose highest after just three minutes to head in a corner, leaving Exeter trailing at the break.
But with 20 minutes to play, Tom Nichols
got Exeter on terms from the spot after Christian Ribeiro
was knocked over by Griffiths.
For the third straight game, manager Paul Tisdale selected an unchanged starting XI for the visit of Luton Town – an identical starting line-up as the previous home game against Wycombe Wanderers and last weekend’s trip to Morecambe, both of which ended in a City win.
The only change to the matchday squad was on the bench, as fit-again Liam Sercombe
returned to the subs. Long-term absentees Pat Baldwin
, Jordan Moore-Taylor
and Jamie Reid
are all still absent and working their way back towards contention.
Parity lasted just three minutes as Luton took the lead from a corner. Danny Butterfield
did well initially to block out Jake Howells, but the resultant flag-kick from Andy Drury found the towering Griffiths, who guided his header inside the far post.
It could have been two just moments later when Butterfield was penalised for a hand-ball just outside the box – however the wall did its job and Howells’ effort was diverted up and over.
Trailing early, City grew into the game and could have had a goal of their own from similar circumstances. It was a lung-busting run from David Wheeler
which forced a corner on the right, and Matt Grimes
’ inswinger found Christian Ribeiro
’s head, but his effort was wide.
And Mark Tyler was forced into his first meaningful save of the game as a big diagonal from Craig Woodman
was headed back into the danger area by David Wheeler
– the ball came to Graham Cummins
, who dug out a shot but the goalkeeper saved well.
Ribeiro then was then the man to head Grimes’ cross from a short free-kick routine back into the danger zone, but it was a Luton head that got there first. The Grecians were having the lion’s share of the ball and it was centre-half Butterfield, getting up in support, that pulled the trigger but his 30-yard effort was over the crossbar.
, again playing at centre-half, showed his superb reading of the game to deny the Luton a route to goal. It was Howells and Jonathan Smith that were breaking quickly with only Oakley to beat, but a well-timed sliding tackle prevented the former from picking the pass.
had the game screening the defence but was soon up in attack, and rifled a shot on the half-volley just wide of target. Soon after he had another effort in similar circumstances, which struck a Luton hand – appeals for a free-kick fell on deaf ears though.
Luton were evidently trying to play on the break and allowing Exeter to work the ball out of defence – and that tactic was nearly to their profit when Drury chipped one to the far post – Paul Benson met the delivery at full stretch and diverted the ball back across goal and agonisingly wide, taking a slender lead into the break.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Luton Town 1
Exeter began the second half by controlling the possession and tempo once again, and after circulating and recycling the ball well, Grimes pulled the trigger – it was the head of Nathan Doyle that took the ball off target.
At the other end Smith was able to squeeze a ball through the legs of Ribeiro to find Mark Cullen – his shot flashed wide of the far post from a narrow angle.
and Arron Davies
were withdrawn for Liam Sercombe
and David Noble – and almost instantly Sercombe nearly had an assist to his name. He hung up a ball for Cummins to head at the far stick – goalkeeper Mark Tyler produced a superb save and Bennett couldn’t quite turn in the rebound.
Chances were coming and going for Exeter as Wheeler’s first-time header from a deep cross only found goalkeeper Tyler, and Cummins could only stab a shot over with the outside of his boot from wide on the left.
However, with 20 minutes to go, City finally knocked the door down and it was sub Nichols that got the goal from 12 yards.
It was Ribeiro that stormed forward from right-back, and Griffiths dangled a leg to topple over the City man, and the referee wasted no time and pointed to the spot. Nichols, with his first touch of the afternoon, dispatched the ball hard and low and got City back on terms.
Nichols might have had a second just moments later – receiving the ball down the left, he cut insiude and rode several challenges before firing into the side netting.
Ricky Miller might have got a goal with his first touch for the visitors as the ball broke fortuitously to him inside the area, forcing a great save from Christy Pym
. Soon after Jonathan Smith was presented with an opportunity from the edge of the area, which the goalkeeper again was a match for.
City continued to come forward and Sercombe came close to winning it in stoppage time as Nichols teed him up, but he just pulled his effort wide of the far post, as it ended a point apiece.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Luton Town 1
Pym; Ribeiro, Butterfield, Oakley, Woodman; Davies (Noble 54), Bennett, Grimes; Keohane (Sercombe 54), Wheeler, Cummins (Nichols 69).
Unused subs: Hamon, Riley-Lowe, Tillson, Jay.
Goal: Nichols (pen 71).
Tyler; Harriman, McNulty, Wilkinson, Griffiths (Lacey 72); Cullen (Miller 80), Smith, Doyle, Howells (Guttridge 62); Drury, Benson.
Unused subs: Justham, Rooney, Whalley, Stevenson.
Goal: Griffiths (3).
Attendance: 5,400 (1,043 away).
Referee: Dean Whitestone