Alex Nicholls’ third goal in as many games wasn’t enough to get anything for Exeter City from a meeting with Tranmere Rovers, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at St James Park.
The scoring was opened for the visitors through Scunthorpe loanee Jennison Myrie-Williams, who turned in a header from the narrowest of angles just before the half-hour mark.
But the scores were level less than ten minutes later when Alex Nicholls
won a free-kick just outside the area, and picked himself up to strike hard and low past the goalkeeper.
However a goal soon after the restart by Rory Donnelly, who checked and slotted in with his left foot, proved the difference.
The scoreline might have been wider when Max Power had the chance to net from 12 yards after Myrie-Williams was brought down in the box, but his penalty was tame and saved well by Christy Pym
The Grecians came within the width of the crossbar to equalising through Liam Sercombe
, and Nichols had a stoppage-time header turned off the line, as Rovers held Exeter at bay.
Pym returned to the Grecians’ starting XI, as did Christian Ribeiro
and Danny Butterfield
after being used from the bench at Oxford the previous weekend. Neither Scot Bennett
nor David Noble
were available for the matchday squad.
Meanwhile Jamie McAllister was involved for the first time since his signing, starting on the bench. The Rovers squad was unrecognisable from the one which the Grecians beat at Prenton Park earlier this season, with only Danny Holmes – goalscorer that afternoon – and goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams the only two left over from that starting line-up.
After warming up in a cold and clear Devon day, the teams were greeted with a blast of rain just as the handshakes were being exchanged.
And it wasn’t just the weather that was tempestuous – the game itself started in frantic manner as a goal-kick from Owain Fon Williams was allowed to bounce all the way through to Kayode Odejayi – only for a brave smothering challenge by Pym. Lee Molyneux followed up and scuffed his effort.
Holmes was subbed off early for Liam Ridehalgh after a heavy fall after colliding with Graham Cummins
, and then Josh Thompson had his name taken for a late challenge on the City striker.
City’s first effort came when Alex Nicholls
forced a corner, and Liam Sercombe
’s delivery saw Tom Nichols
get too fine a touch with his header.
Tranmere had a brief spell of dominance, when the aerial threat of Odejayi and Thompson was being used with high balls into the box, but Jordan Moore-Taylor
and Arron Davies
made important defensive headers.
But City began to exert some pressure of their own and grew into the game, coming in waves of attacks. Nichols controlled on the right, cut inside and couldn’t quite find a yard to get a shot away and instead allowed Nicholls to take over, but he struck over from 20 yards.
It was the visitors that opened the lead, and it was in something of a bizarre fashion too – after some strong play from Odejayi on the Rovers left, Molyneux delivered a deep ball to the back stick for Myrie-Williams, who stooped to turn in a header from a seemingly impossible angle.
However the lead didn’t last too long – as Exeter came again, Nicholls won a free-kick as he was knocked to ground on the edge of the area, as he latched onto a loose header clear. It was Nicholls himself that struck from 20 yards, bending a low free-kick around the wall with too much power for Fon Williams to keep out.
Nicholls could have made it two for the afternoon for City and himself when another headed clearance was more up than out and the former Northampton man brought down, got the ball out of his feet in the area, and struck just past the far post.
Half-time: Exeter City 1 Tranmere Rovers 1
The second period was just four minutes old when the visitors went ahead for the second time in the match. Some good hold-up play from Odejayi allowed him to feed strike-partner Donnelly – he dropped a shoulder, showed good feet and popped a left-footed effort inside the far post from inside the area.
It could have been ever worse for Exeter before the hour-mark when left-back Craig Woodman
was turned in the corner by Myrie-Williams, and could only bundle over the Rovers midfielder as he tried to recover, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot.
It was Power against Pym from 12 yards, with the chance of opening a two-goal margin to the visitors. But the spot-kick was dinked straight into the palms of the grateful Pym, keeping City to within a goal.
At the other end a diagonal ball for Nicholls was struck on the half-volley by the City man from a tight angle, and spun off target via the outside of his boot.
Donnelly had a chance to break from his own half as Tranmere broke following a City corner – the forward drove at the defence with pace, but Danny Butterfield
got a vital toe onto the ball to kill the momentum.
Tranmere were having a bulk of the possession as City were chasing the game, and a good hanging cross by Molyneux was met with a side-footed volley at the far post by sub Shamir Fenelon, but he blazed over under little pressure.
was introduced for the final quarter of an hour as City looked to add a different option up front – and he was involved in the move of the match which came oh so close to getting the equaliser.
played a ball inside for Nicholls, and after a good one-two with Morrison, he laid in Nichols but it was a Tranmere toe that got on the ball as the striker squared.
And then Sercombe rattled the crossbar with a thunderous strike on the half-volley after collecting outside the area.
Deep into stoppage-time, Liam Ridehalgh placed himself well to keep out a Nichols header from a Sercombe corner, as the visitors held on to win.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Tranmere Rovers 2
Pym; Ribeiro (Morrison 77), Butterfield, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Davies, Oakley, Sercombe, Nicholls (Keohane 87); Nichols, Cummins (Wheeler 65).
Unused subs: Hamon, McAllister, Tillson, Jay.
Goal: Nicholls (36).
Fon Williams; Holmes (Ridehalgh 5), Thompson, Dugdale, Taylor; Myrie-Williams (Fenelon 65), Power, Jennings, Molyneux; Odejayi (Stockton 89), Donnelly.
Unused subs: Brezovan, Laird, Kirby, Koumas.
Goals: Myrie-Williams (28), Donnelly (49).
Attendance: 4,044 (233 away).
Referee: Stephen Martin