Exeter City claimed a first ever win at Whaddon Road, with Tom Nichols and Graham Cummins striking in a 2-1 win for the Grecians against Cheltenham Town.
Nichols’ deft finish gave Exeter a midway through the first-half, and Cummins was alive to a goalkeeper spillage to firm up the scoreline a few minutes from time.
A late own-goal gave the Robins hope but ultimately City held out to claim the victory.
With Alex Nicholls
missing completely through injury and Clinton Morrison
only fit enough for the bench, David Wheeler
and Graham Cummins
stepped into the attacking positions for Exeter.
A third change saw the return to fitness of Jamie McAllister, who came in at left-back in place of teenager Connor Riley-Lowe
. Jamie Reid
also made a long-awaited return to the fold to take a seat amongst the subs.
Former Grecians captain Matt Taylor returned to the Robins’ starting XI to start against his former club, but ex-City forward Eliot Richards missed out on the squad altogether with injury.
Exeter’s preparation was dealt a late blow as James Hamon
sustained an injury in the warm-up, meaning that he had to begin on the bench – meaning a starting berth between the sticks for Christy Pym
in a forced fourth change to the squad.
The hosts started brightly and a quick break down the right could have brought the game’s first goal – Danny Haynes slipped in Wes Burns in the channel, but the angle was tight and his effort was wide on the far side.
After a spell of pressure from City, Burns then had the chance to turn provider for the hosts as he skipped around a tackle on the right flank and delivered a cross for Shaun Harrad. The striker applied a glancing header but it was past the far post.
However the game’s first goal went Exeter’s way. A free-kick downfield from Pym was launched up to Wheeler – his flick on was controlled beautifully by Nichols, who lifted the ball over Trevor Carson with his second touch and found the back of the net.
Cheltenham then picked up a number of bookings for poorly timed tackles. Matt Sparrow lunged in on Jordan Moore-Taylor
, Christian Ribeiro
was bumped over by Craig Braham-Barrett and Wes Burns hacked down Nichols as the Robins took a physical approach to the game.
Wheeler, Cummins and Nichols were working hard in attack and making life difficult for the hosts’ back-four; Wheeler did well to cut in off the right and saw a left-footed strike blocked out on the edge of the D.
And then some neat play down the left allowed Ryan Harley
to clip a ball to the back post, but Wheeler was adjudged to have fouled Braham-Barrett as he attacked the ball in the six-yard box.
Half-time: Cheltenham Town 0 Exeter City 1
Tom McCready was introduced at half-time for his second appearance in an Exeter shirt, replacing Liam Sercombe
in the heart of midfield.
And the midfielder could have had his first goal in Grecian colours as he had a left-footed strike from the egde of the area – Harley had teed him up after receiving from Arron Davies
, but Trevor Carson got down to the shot.
McCready was also on set-piece duty as a deep free-kick was swung in for Moore-Taylor to attack, but he was beaten in the air.
Cheltenham were rarely threatening Pym’s goal, but a direct ball forward by Haynes nearly found Harrad on the run – as it happened, Ribeiro did well to see off the attack and muscled the forward off the ball.
Lee Holmes was given his second taste of action midway through the second period, replacing Wheeler on the flank. And some modest penalty appeals were turned down soon after his arrival as Taylor tackled him in the box.
A golden chance came and went to double the lead for Exeter as a whipped delivery from the right by Davies just evaded Cummins in the centre – it sat up just too much for Nichols to get over it, and he struck over the bar from a tight angle.
And within a minute the Robins had come just as close to finding the back of the net as some cutting build-up play allowed sub Omari Sterling-James a sight of goal – he pulled the trigger but it took a touch as it sailed marginally wide.
The Robins were having much of the attacking play and the City defence was holding firm – although twice substitute Joe Hanks drilled low free-kicks from a tight angle, which evaded any touches on their way behind.
However the Grecians got their second of the afternoon five minutes from time – a short corner down the right allowed Davies to work his way into the box and when the strike with the outside of his boot was spilled by Carson, Cummins was alive to turn in and give Exeter a cushion.
It turned out to be a necessary buffer as the hosts pulled back three minutes later – a corner down the right saw the ball eventually forced home, credited as an own-goal against Jordan Moore-Taylor
City had to batten down the hatches in stoppage time as Burns volleyed over and Hanks drew a low save from Pym with a powerful effort, but the Grecians eventually stuck at it to claim the victory.
Full-time: Cheltenham Town 1 Exeter City 2
Carson; Berry (Vaughan 78), Packwood, M.Taylor, Braham-Barrett; Burns, Mills, Sparrow (Hanks 69), M.Richards, Haynes (Sterling-James 69); Harrad.
Unused subs: Gould, Deaman, Kotwica, Wynter.
Goal: o.g. (88).
Pym; Davies, Ribeiro, Moore-Taylor, McAllister; Oakley, Sercombe (McCready 46), Harley; Wheeler (Holmes 66), Cummins (Morrison 86), Nichols.
Unused subs: Bennett, Keohane, Reid.
Goals: Nichols (26), Cummins (85).
Attendance: 2,880 (584 away).
Referee: Darren Drysdale