Exeter City pulled off a memorable comeback as they overturned Shrewsbury Town’s 2-0 first-half lead – Tom Nichols’ dramatic winner came in second-half injury time to secure a 3-2 victory.
The Shrews looked good for their second place in Sky Bet
League 2 in the first half, with striker James Collins getting his ninth and tenth goals of the campaign.
The second half was a totally different story though – City pulled one back within seconds of the restart, with Nichols fed by Matt Grimes
before putting the ball behind Town keeper Jayson Leutwiler. Substitute David Wheeler
headed the equaliser, before Nichols’ second won the points for the Grecians at the death.
The Grecians, without captain Scot Bennett
, who was replaced in the XI by Jimmy Keohane
after he injured his ankle against Newport County AFC last Sunday, handed a first league start to 19-year-old goalkeeper James Hamon
for the visit of the Shrews. Ryan Harley, who returned to the club this week, was not involved for this one, while Arron Davies
was on the bench after a late fitness test.
Visiting manager Micky Mellon made just the singular change to his side’s last outing, the FA Cup first round replay with Walsall which the Shrews won 1-0 thanks to Liam Lawrence’s 53rd-minute goal. That swap saw Scotland Under-21 international Jack Grimmer come in for Bobby Grant, the striker on loan at Shrewsbury from Blackpool. Fellow loanee Grimmer had missed out in midweek at parent club Fulham’s request.
French striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro put Liam Lawrence’s corner over the bar in the first meaningful effort on ten minutes, before debutant James Hamon
made a collection seconds before the former Rochdale, Bury and Tranmere player could get is head to a Jack Grimmer cross. But the goalkeeper’s resolve was ended in the 13th minute, when James Collins’ shot flew past him into the net.
’s dispossession of Grimmer almost set in motion a quick route back into the game for the Grecians, but referee Christopher Sarginson ruled that there was a foul in the build-up before Graham Cummins
could head the final effort into the hands of visiting goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler.
Goalscorer Collins almost got a second in spectacular fashion when, on his weak left foot, he unleashed a great strike that whistled perilously close to Hamon’s left post. Grimes attempted the unexpected when he lashed against the Swiss goalkeeper’s near-side-netting. Jimmy Keohane
had the Grecians’ best chance yet when his diving header went wide from Liam Sercombe
’s inch-perfect cross.
Liam Lawrence was booked for a dangerous-looking challenge on Tom Nichols
just before the half-hour, as the chances kept getting better for the Grecians. Nathaniel Knight-Percival made an unbelievable last-ditch challenge to deny Liam Sercombe
the chance to pull the trigger. The ball then arrived with Cummins, who with the goal at his mercy scuffed into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper. Akpa Akpro shot wide at the other end moments later.
Then, it was a feeling of dejection for City, as despite Hamon’s tremendous point-blank save from James Wesolowski, Collins was on hand to give the goalkeeper no chance, grabbing his second and doubling the visitor’s advantage. Hamon made a near-identical save from the Australian Wesolowski five minutes later, but luckily for the Grecians, no Shrews players were available to knock in the rebound this time around.
Leutwiler made a comfortable save from a well-hit Matt Grimes
free-kick before the Shrews broke. At the culmination of the move, Hamon pulled off a heroic stop to stop Collins from getting his hat-trick, the frontman having broken free of the offside trap. With Shrewsbury piling on the pressure, Akpa Akpro shot against the side-netting once more.
With two minutes of added time signalled, David Noble set through Liam Sercombe
to roll one wide. That was the final action of a first half in which Shrewsbury had looked worthy of their second-placed standing.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Shrewsbury Town 2
It took Exeter City a matter of seconds to pull one back in the second period, as after Matt Grimes
crossed, Nichols deftly put the ball above Leutwiler, and it was game on again for the second half.
After Grimes’ whipped corner was headed clear by Connor Goldson, the Shrews seemed to find an invisible wall preventing them from making the ball cross the line for their third. Collins headed against the post before being penalised for offside. Graham Cummins
came unbelievably close to chipping Leutwiler for the equaliser two minutes before the hour.
Referee Chris Sarginson made a baffling call when he booked Matt Grimes
for an innocuous-looking slide challenge on Liam Lawrence as the Exeter City man tried to prevent a loose ball going out for a goal-kick. Shrewsbury left-back Mickey Demetriou made an important interception to block Liam Sercombe
from feeding Christian Ribeiro
on the right side of the box when a number of Grecians were in dangerous attacking positions.
came on for Jimmy Keohane
in City’s first change on 63 minutes, shortly before Jack Grimmer was booked for petulantly throwing the ball away from Craig Woodman
when the Shrews man had just conceded a throw-in on the Grecians’ left side.
The City substitute went on a powerful run that was cynically halted by Knight-Percival, the former Peterborough player, who went in the book for his efforts. Wheeler then pegged the Grecians level – with City looking potent on the front foot, Craig Woodman
crossed for Wheeler, who headed perfectly into the bottom corner of Leutwiler’s goal. The comeback was so unexpected that there was a delay between the ball going in and the celebrations starting, with on first glance the ball looking like it had gone wide.
Another strange Exeter City booking followed, as Graham Cummins
was cautioned for colliding with Leutwiler in what looked a fifty-fifty challenge. Connor Goldson was booked for an off-the-ball incident involving Tom Nichols
soon after. Arron Davies
replaced David Noble in the middle.
’ effort on the edge of the box was goal-bound until a deflection took the ball out for a corner, before Shrewsbury made their first substitution, Jordan Clark replacing Liam Lawrence.
But then, as the game ticked over into second-half injury time, the unbelievable turnaround was complete. Sercombe crossed for Wheeler to rise and flick on. From there, Nichols headed in with two despairing Shrewsbury defenders booting the ball at each other after it had crossed the line. It all happened almost in slow motion, but the result was that Exeter City had come from two goals down to lead the League 2 high-fliers.
James Collins almost broke Grecian hearts as he missed by inches almost immediately after the goal, and then it was some heroic defending from the home side. Even Jayson Leutwiler was sent forward at one stage, and when the Grecians broke, Sercombe crossed for Nichols, who became the latest Grecian to be booked for a fifty-fifty challenge, thanks to some theatrics by the goalkeeper.
Never mind though, because Exeter City held on for a quite remarkable win.
Full-time: Exeter City 3 Shrewsbury Town 2
: Hamon, Ribeiro, Butterfield, Oakley, Woodman; Noble (Davies 84), Grimes, Sercombe, Keohane (Wheeler 63); Nichols, Cummins. Subs: Pym, Riley-Lowe, Tillson, Jay, Watkins.
Goals: Nichols (46, 90), Wheeler 75.
: Leutwiler; Grimmer, Knight-Percival, Goldson, Grandison, Demetriou; Woods, Wesolowski, Lawrence (Clark 88); Akpa Akpro, Collins. Subs: Halstead, Ellis, Vernon, Grant, Griffith, Vincent.
Goals: Collins (13, 33).
Attendance: 3,933 (305 away).
Referee: Christopher Sarginson