Alex Nicholls cancelled out Aaron McGowan’s opener as the Grecians played out a 1-1 draw with Morecambe at St James Park.
The Shrimps’ goal came against the run of play after a quarter of an hour, and Nicholls’ equaliser – controlling a Tom Nichols
cross and firing in – came ten minutes from time.
However Nichols received his marching orders in the game’s last action after an exasperated swing of his foot caught an opposition player.
Four changes were made to the Exeter City line-up that saw off Cheltenham at Whaddon Road last weekend, as James Hamon
replaced the injured Christy Pym
in goal, Tom McCready
came in for the sidelined Liam Sercombe
, and Lee Holmes
and Clinton Morrison
replaced David Wheeler
and Graham Cummins
, Danny Butterfield
and Alex Nicholls
all completed their returns to injury as they were named amongst the replacements.
Morecambe, who drew 1-1 on their relatively short trip to Carlisle last time out, had Andreas Arestidou in goal, with Liverpool loanee Danny Ward away on international duty. Andrew Fleming partnered Jack Redshaw up front and McGowan was in in place of Shaun Beeley.
A good tackle from Morecambe captain Mark Hughes denied Clinton Morrison
a chance for a quick opener, with Lee Holmes
orchestrating a strong passing move after the Grecians had quickly dispossessed the visitors from the kick-off. McCready tried one from the corner of the box against his former employers only for Arestidou to catch with the game barely a minute old.
With City on the offensive, Holmes crossed low and dangerously from the left, and the trio of Morrison, Christian Ribeiro
and Nichols were all left ruing the missed opportunity, none of them making a connection as the ball fizzed across the face of Arestidou’s goal. Then a turn-and-shot from McCready, receiving from Ribeiro, went right of the goalkeeper’s left-hand post in City’s best effort so far after 12 minutes.
After all of Exeter’s early pressure, it was hard on Paul Tisdale’s side when Morecambe took the lead after 16 minutes. A fine, flowing move McGowan finding himself with time and space on the right side of James Hamon
’s box to slide the ball into the corner for his first goal in professional football.
Nichols went down under the attention of Alex Kenyon, only for referee Michael Bull to wave away the City appeals. Nichols would then rush his next chance, scuffing off target in more space than he probably thought. The Nichols/Kenyon rivalry would continue the City frontman was bloodied after being clattered by his adversary, though again the referee gave nothing the home side’s way.
City supporters were incensed by the officiating from the man in the middle came when Lee Holmes
was felled on the edge of Morecambe’s area after a fast break – the Shrimps’ backline immediately pounced on the City player, not allowing him to return to his feet, yet the referee adjudged Holmes guilty of a hand-ball. Clinton Morrison
side-footed Harley’s cutback wide as the half entered two allocated minutes of injury time.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Morecambe 1
Morecambe’s Jamie Devitt should have tested Hamon when set up by Jack Redshaw early after the break but shot inches wide, City’s defence busting a gut to cover as the man who was sent off in this fixture last season ghosted in on the right side of the area. Ribeiro took a knock in that run of play, and he was replaced by Nicholls.
Double substitutions saw Jim Bentley replace Alex Kenyon with Alex Wright and Kevin Ellison come on for Devitt, and Paul Tisdale switched Wheeler for Morrison and Cummins for McCready.
Newcomer Ellison caused concern for Hamon when he had to race out to clear ahead of Morecambe’s joint-top scorer this season. Ellison blocked his clearance to an extent, but the goalkeeper did enough to avert the danger. Ryan Edwards’ free header was blocked inadvertently by Cummins as another Morecambe opportunity came and went.
The best chance yet for City was a glancing header for Wheeler from Holmes’ left-sided cross, then in shades of two cases of mistaken identity in the top four divisions last weekend, the referee booked Laurence Wilson for a foul that Andrew Fleming committed.
The referee was heavily involved again moments later as Wheeler saw a goal ruled out for offside. Holmes had put a free-kick into the area for Cummins to head against the post, with Wheeler was on hand to bundle in the rebound, but assistant Mark Pottage had his flag up.
But there would be no offside call when City’s equaliser finally arrived. Nichols, after initially looking to have squandered the opportunity by falling over, picked himself up to cross from the right. The ball found Nicholls in acres of space in the box, and the substitute had plenty of time to control, turn and slot past Arestidou.
Harley attempted the ambitious when he tried to smash in on the edge of the box after a corner had been attacked, but only found the Big Bank. Hamon then saved from Redshaw at the other end, before an offside Cummins headed over. Andrew Fleming should have done better for the Shrimps but completely miscued his volley with his teammates queueing up behind him on the edge of Hamon’s box.
Paul Mullin was sent on in place of Redshaw late on before their captain Mark Hughes was booked for pulling Cummins to his feet after the referee had ruled in the Morecambe man’s favour for backing in.
Entering five minutes of additional time, the Grecians did well to block all comers from a Shrimps corner, before Davies fired over.
The game ended with a straight red card out of nowhere for Nichols, who was given his marching orders after catching an opponent who had just dispossessed him.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Morecambe 1
Hamon; Ribeiro (Nicholls 53), Moore-Taylor, Davies, McAllister, Oakley, McCready (Cummins 65), Harley, Holmes, Morrison (Wheeler 65), Nichols.
Unused subs: Keadell, Butterfield, Woodman, Bennett.
Goal: Nicholls (80).
Arestidou, Hughes, Edwards, Wilson, Parrish, McGowan, Devitt (Ellison 65), Kenyon (Wright 65), Wildig, Fleming, Redshaw (Mullin 88).
Unused subs: Stewart, Goodall, Amond.
Goal: McGowan (17).
Attendance: 3,538 (83 away).
Referee: Michael Bull