The Grecians fell a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Wycombe Wanderers, who won it with the final kick of the match in the 12th minute of added time in the second half.
Sam Saunders had the Chairboys in the ascendancy after seven minutes, but after relentless Exeter pressure the equaliser finally came through Liam Sercombe
with quarter of an hour remaining.
But after injuries had lengthened the game into an age of stoppage time, Aaron Pierre was caught in the box by sub Tom Nichols
to allow Paul Hayes to fire in from 12 yards with the final action of the evening, condemning the Grecians to defeat in the cruellest fashion.
Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale made three changes to his starting XI for the game against Wycombe Wanderers.
In goal came Christy Pym
, replacing James Hamon
between the sticks. Additionally Alex Nicholls
and Jordan Moore-Taylor
both returned to the starting line-up, with Danny Butterfield
and Scot Bennett
taking place amongst the subs.
, having served a three-match ban, returned to contention to take a seat on the bench.
Within a minute the first chance had come and gone for the Chairboys – Lee Holmes
’ pass in midfield was a little short and allowed Nico Yennaris to nip in and deliver a deep cross for captain Paul Hayes, but he side-footed his volley wide of the near post.
Then Exeter began to see more possession and threatened down the flanks, and Steven Craig was soon in the book for a late challenge on Jamie McAllister.
And Graham Cummins
felt that he had a reasonable shout for a penalty as he was bundled down in the box by Aaron Pierre after Arron Davies
had raked a ball forward. Nothing was given but Cummins kept the ball alive and fed Holmes, who stung the palms of Matt Ingram after beating a man.
Despite early pressure from Exeter, it was the hosts that went ahead. Saunders played a quite one-two with Hayes before hitting a first-time effort on his left boot, which nestled inside Pym’s far post.
The goal saw the hosts’ confidence grow and they began to look more settled – and they were almost benefactors when a clearance pinballed around and ended just out of reach of a blue shirt.
However the liveliness of Holmes, especially in the wide positions, was giving the Wycombe defence a workout. After working some space on the right, a fizzing low cross from the Preston loanee was met by Nicholls but he couldn’t quite make the right contact.
A tough challenge by Christian Ribeiro
just before the half-hour mark left the City defender in some discomfort – however after some nursing by physio Graham McAnuff, he was fit to continue.
However the recipient of the tackle, Matt McClure – who had replaced the injured Aaron Holloway in an early change – also had to be withdrawn hurt, with Fred Onyedinma stepping in. Manager Gareth Ainsworth had only named six subs and had used two before 30 minutes were up.
released Nicholls down the right, and the forward appeared to be clattered by goalkeeper Ingram on the left of his box as he attempted to beat the Grecian forward to the ball – however neither the referee nor his assistant adjudged there to be any infringement from the stopper.
Ribeiro then dinked a ball down the right and a terrific take from Nicholls as the ball dropped over his shoulder allowed him to step around full-back Sam Wood, but his shot was blocked as he cut into the area on his left foot.
Half-time: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Exeter City 0
The Grecians came out firing in the second period and Cummins was almost in on goal when he turned smartly from a slipped ball by Harley, but it just escaped and travelled through to goalkeeper Ingram.
And then a quick free-kick down the left allowed Holmes to swing over a cross – Ribeiro won the first header at the far post, centre-half partner Jordan Moore-Taylor
won the second, and Nicholls hit a volley from 12 yards which was blocked out.
Then some good build-up from Exeter saw Cummins lay in Sercombe down the right – he struck a firm shot which Ingram palmed away into space.
Nichols and David Wheeler
came on for Nicholls and Cummins to add fresh legs in the forward positions. Soon after Arron Davies
was replaced by Clinton Morrison
in the Grecians’ final change.
A free-kick on the left from Wycombe by Saunders was met at the far post by Aaron Pierre, but with a tight angle his downward header bounced into the turf before skipping over the bar.
And at the other end it was a similar situation as a terrific corner from the left by Harley was met at the far post by Ribeiro with power, though it ended up hitting the floor before clearing the bar.
But the Grecians’ relentless pressure was finally rewarded with a goal – Holmes found half a yard to deliver a fine cross, which was met by a Wheeler flick and then powered in under the bar off the forehead of Sercombe.
Sercombe came close to adding a second and completing a turnaround as he was slipped in through the middle, only for Yennaris to make a critical stop at the last.
Despite Wycombe having limited opportunities to get upfield, Saunders twice popped efforts away on the break but missed the target.
Nichols came within a whisker of picking out the head of strike-partner Morrison with a dinked ball into the area, but it just evaded his attention.
As the game ticked into what was due to be six added minutes, Sercombe burst down the left and almost got a cross away – instead Yennaris put in a tackle to send the ball behind for the corner.
However the full-back hurt himself in doing so, causing a lengthy delay before Harley could swing in from the left and meaning the Chairboys had to see out most of stoppage-time a man light.
Nichols was denied a late winner with a frankly unbelievable save from Ingram – Holmes cut in off the right to hang up an inswinger, and from nowhere the stopper pawed away a deft header from the City man.
The tension was palpable and Exeter were almost caught on the counter when Saunders was played in but he lifted an effort over the bar.
Late, late efforts came and went for both teams and it looked nailed on to finish in parity.
But in the 12th minute of stoppage time, Pierre went to ground in the area after being caught by Nichols – the referee pointed to the spot, allowing Hayes to convert a winner for the Chairboys with the final kick of the game.
Full-time: Wycombe Wanderers 2 Exeter City 1Wycombe Wanderers:
Ingram; Yennaris, Mawson, Pierre, Wood; Saunders, Bloomfield, Murphy; Holloway (McClure 19 (Onyedinma (28)), Hayes, Craig (Ephraim 81).
Unused subs: Lynch, Bean, Fletcher.
Goal: Saunders (7), Hayes (pen 90+12).
Pym; Davies (Morrison 71), Moore-Taylor, Ribeiro, McAllister; Oakley, Harley, Sercombe; Nicholls (Nichols 61), Holmes, Cummins (Wheeler 61).
Unused subs: Hamon, Butterfield, Bennett, Keohane.
Goal: Sercombe (76).
Attendance: 3,245 (284 away).
Referee: Iain Williamson