Report: Exeter City 1 Plymouth Argyle 1The Devon Derby ended up in honours even with a 1-1 draw at St James Park.
Exeter City took a first-half lead through Liam Sercombe after he came in off the flank to fire beyond the reach of Argyle’s goalkeeper.
But Argyle gained a foothold in the second half and made their chances count when Joe Lennox’s strike from 20 yards took a deflection en route to the top corner.
Maxime Blanchard earned a second yellow for a mistimed lunge in the dying throes to reduce the visitors to ten men, but it didn’t offer City enough time to take advantage as the game ended all-square.
Scot Bennett, who missed last week’s trip to Spotland through suspension, was recalled into City’s starting XI in place of Jimmy Keohane, who dropped to the bench. Arron Davies had to watch from the sidelines after picking up a recurrence of his calf injury against Rochdale.
The visitors nearly took an early lead after they won a free-kick on the right-hand touchline after Danny Coles fouled Andres Gurrieri. Luke Young whipped in a great dead-ball but Rhys Griffiths could only head wide.
Alan Gow didn’t take long to begin working his magic against his former club and after dancing through the midfield and leaving Conor Hourihane on his backside, he laid in Jamie Cureton. However the striker’s touch was a fraction too heavy and Darren Purse made a vital saving tackle as he shaped to shoot.
Exeter were suddenly dominating possession and chances after an even start. Sercombe tested Rene Gilmartin in the Pilgrims’ goal from a tight angle after Craig Woodman had been fouled outside the area, and then Scot Bennett’s header was hacked clear after rising well to meet a corner.
Gow’s neat touches were proving troublesome to the visitors and the Scotsman was on the receiving end of a poorly-timed tackle from Maxime Blanchard. The referee deemed it worthy of a booking, as the Grecians were looking to break.
Plymouth were still offering threats in front of the Big Bank and Mark Molesley fired a first-time effort on his left foot after the ball ricocheted into his path, but it lacked power and direction and trickled wide of Krysiak’s post.
With the tempo of the game steadying somewhat, Gow tried to catch Gilmartin cold with a low strike from all over 30 yards. The shot had the stopper scrambling, and he was relieved to see it fizz past the upright.
But the derby really sprung to life with a goal by Liam Sercombe in the 34th minute. With the rain teeming down, captain Danny Coles burst into the centre circle before releasing the midfielder on the right wing. Onismor Bhasera bust a gut to try and apprehend the City man, but it was in vain as Sercombe fired across the face of goal and the ball nestled into the far corner.
Exeter might have had a second before the interval when Gow’s free-kick from the right touchline almost found Bennett at the far post, but it squirmed just over his head and out for a goal-kick.
And similarly the Pilgrims almost drew level when Lennox lashed a shot on the bounce from outside the box, but Krysiak got behind the ball well to collect.
Half-time: Exeter City 1 Plymouth Argyle 0
Cureton was gifted a glorious opportunity to open up a two-goal margin moments after the restart. Robbie Williams, on at half-time, played a header back goalwards but it run straight into the path of the striker. With Gilmartin completely exposed, Cureton fired an effort wide of the target and held his head in his hands.
Williams’ introduction was further soured when he was booked minutes later for a robust challenge on Oakley.
The atmosphere became a little sedate as the second half progressed as Argyle began to take possession, albeit without carving out much in the way of clear chances. A tough tackle also left Oakley floored for a few minutes, resulting in a delay in play.
They did finally muster a decent opportunity shortly after the hour mark when Griffiths rose to nod a direct ball into the path of Bhasera, but his effort sailed harmlessly over from a tight angle.
Carl Fletcher rung the changes soon after as he looked to get a foothold back in the match. Hourihane and Griffiths were withdrawn for Warren Feeney and Nick Chadwick.
Plymouth were beginning to get control of the ball and came close once more through Young. The midfielder’s corner was cleared back into his own path but a combination of Krysiak and the post kept him out from the tightest of angles.
Argyle finally made their pressure count with a goal in front of the travelling fans. When a ball by Bhasera squirmed to Joe Lennox on the right flank, he skipped past a couple of challenges and unleashed a left-footed effort. The shot took a deflection which took the ball beyond Krysiak and into the top corner.
Substitute Keohane was trying make things tick for City. After picking up the ball and making a direct run at the Pilgrims’ defence and slipped in Cureton, but the forward’s effort was just a touch wide of the far post.
Blanchard was caught out once more as the game drifted towards full-time, and over-committed to a tackle on John O’Flynn. He mistimed his lunge and caught the Irishman, and was given his marching orders.
Bennett came close to making the numerical advantage count in the final seconds as he latched onto Steve Tully’s deep cross, but couldn’t steer the ball the right side of the post.
And it proved the last opportunity of note as the five minutes of additional time saw both defences hold firm.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Plymouth Argyle 1
Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Coles, Baldwin, Woodman; Sercombe, Bennett, Oakley (75); Gow (Amankwaah 79); O’Flynn, Cureton.
Subs (not used): Evans, Dawson, Chamberlain, Reid, Moore-Taylor.
Goal: Sercombe (34).
Plymouth Argyle: Gilmartin; Nelson, Purse, Blanchard, Bhasera; Young, Hourihane (Chadwick 65), Molesley, Lennox; Gurrieri (Williams h-t); Griffiths (Feeney 65).
Subs (not used): Cole, Berry, Lowry, Harvey.
Goal: Lennox (73).
Attendance: 6,447 (1,227 away)
Referee: A. Woolmer