Report: Exeter City 2 Barnet 2
A 97th-minute equaliser by Andy Iro gave Barnet an unlikely point at St James Park, by stealing a 2-2 draw from Exeter City.
First-half goals by Danny Coles and Scot Bennett put City in a commanding position at the break, which arguably could have been even more comfortable.
The City fans had to endure a nervous final 15 minutes – and an extra added seven – after Jon Nurse managed to squeeze in an effort in the second half.
And the unthinkable happened in the final throes as Iro snuck in his effort on the turn, to deny City what could have been a comfortable win.
City boss Paul Tisdale made a single change to the starting XI for the visit of Barnet. The only alteration from the Oxford United fixture was the omission of Jamie Cureton, who took a seat on the bench, being replaced by Jimmy Keohane.
Exeter began with real intent and created some decent opportunities in the early exchanges. A ball into the channel allowed Keohane to break clear on the right flank and his cut-back to countryman John O’Flynn saw Dave Stephens make a vital block for the Bees.
The same pairing linked up again moments later with Keohane dinking a ball to the far post, but the striker’s header was touched just over the bar. Scot Bennett headed narrowly wide from the resulting corner.
Then a long ball forward by Pat Baldwin was left by O’Flynn for Matt Oakley to steal in behind, but he was unfortunate to see goalkeeper Graham Stack spread well to divert the ball wide.
The siege on the Barnet goal continued with some superb passing play. Even under heavy pressure the Grecians kept the ball on the deck and eventually carved an opening on the right flank, as Liam Sercombe sent in a shot from the byline. Keohane scuffed his effort but then fed Oakley, who poked his effort marginally wide.
It took until the mid-point of first half for the visitors to create an effort. Full-back Barry Fuller arrived late on the scene and drilled a stinging low shot from a wide position, but Artur Krysiak held the ball well.
Exeter had the ball in the net on the half-hour mark, only to see the linesman’s flag raised to disallow the goal for offside. Alan Gow had whipped in an in-swinger from the right flank and O’Flynn had arrived in behind to head in, only to see the assist flagging.
But the opener was forthcoming, and not a moment too soon. After Keohane’s blocked shot won Exeter a corner, Gow stepped up at the right-hand corner flag to curl one in, and captain Danny Coles rose highest to direct a bullet-header into the back of the net.
City weren’t content with a single goal though, with the midfield – in particular the all-action Keohane – supporting the attack excellently.
And a second goal followed for City, from similar circumstances. Sercombe’s corner – from the left this time – was again met by Coles, and when Keohane inadvertently blocked the effort, Bennett was alive to prod the ball home to double the advantage.
With a two-goal lead at the break – which realistically could have been far more – Exeter left the field to a standing ovation.
Half-time: Exeter City 2 Barnet 0
The Grecians came out with the same level of intensity in the second period, looking to try to kill the game off. Craig Woodman’s deep dead-ball towards the far post was only half-cleared and Keohane lined up an effort on his left foot, but flashed it high and wide.
Sercombe went down injured shortly afterwards, and with the magic sponge failing to conjure any sorcery, Aaron Dawson was called into action to replace him.
The Bees were keen to show they weren’t down and out, and a testing ball from the left flank needed an intervention by Coles to deny the strikers lurking in the middle.
Dawson was into the thick of it quickly and Keohane found him in acres of space just outside the box. He steadied himself before unleashing a shot, but his effort was down the throat of Stack who parried clear.
Former Dutch international superstar Edgar Davids hadn’t had an especially effective game, and had to sub himself off after over-stretching for a tackle, in his first match after taking the sole reigns from Mark Robson. Jon Nurse was his replacement.
City weren’t quite dominating the second half as they did the first, but were still making some opportunities. In particular Gow might have done better when he plucked a cross-field ball out of the air, but he drilled his shot into the side netting at the near post.
The complexion of the game became very different suddenly when substitute Nurse scored for Barnet. A neat touch by John Oster found Nurse in full stride, and after beating the offside trap, he tucked it inside the far post.
A few minutes later, Tisdale removed Gow for Arron Davies to shore up the midfield, with the Scotsman being heartily applauded off for his efforts.
Exeter were being forced onto the back-foot in the closing stages as Barnet looked for an equaliser. The home fans were nervy when the fourth official held up his board to display seven added minutes.
Play was stopped once more when Bennett took a clattering to his nose, but he returned shortly after in a numberless (and bloodless) shirt.
But there was another twist in the tale as a ball hooked into the box found its way to Andy Iro, whose shot on the turn squirmed into the net to level the scores in the 97th minute.
And that’s how the match ended, with the scores level at two-apiece.
Full time: Exeter City 2 Barnet 2
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Sercombe (Dawson 54), Bennett, Oakley; Gow (Davies 79), Keohane; O’Flynn (Cureton 84).
Subs (not used): Evans, Amankwaah, Reid, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Coles (34), Bennett (45).
Barnet: Stack; Fuller, Stephens, Iro, Johnson; Holmes, Oster, Davids (Nurse 67), Byrne (Atieno 90), Yiadom (Weston h-t); Hyde.
Subs (not used): Cowler, Brown, Kamdjo, Fortune.
Goal: Nurse (76), Iro (90+7).
Attendance: 4085 (129 away)
Referee: C. Sarginson