Two Tom Nichols goals were enough to put Buckland Athletic to the sword as the Grecians triumphed 2-0 at Homers Heath.
The striker netted two similar goals either side of the interval, on both occasions punishing lapsed defending by the Western League side as Exeter played their first Saturday afternoon fixture since April. The defensive unit also kept their shape well and were rarely truly troubled, and kept their goals-conceded tally at zero after three pre-season games.
With half an eye on Sunday’s visit of Premier League side Swansea City, the Exeter line-up consisted of pros that have yet to establish themselves as regulars in the first-team. The squad included trialist Nick Rudge and under-18 midfielder James Byrne on the bench, with under-18 defender Hussein Heidari beginning at right-back.
For the Bucks, there were familiar names in the squad as far as travelling Grecians were concerned with Ethan Phillips, Alex Jeannin and Jamie Micklewright all on the teamsheet.
Nichols in fact almost gobbled up an earlier defensive mix as a back-pass seemed to stick to the surface, but the defence ultimately weren’t punished.
At the other end, Gavin Hammon was trying to make a nuisance of himself and went close as he hit a bouncing ball on the swivel, which flashed wide of Christy Pym’s left-hand post. Shortly after Hammon was slipped in and it needed strong defending by Jordan Tillson to prevent him pulling the trigger.
City began to attack with purpose and it took a strong save by Kenny Griffiths to maintain the deadlock by denying Nichols. The forward had been the one to feed on a swift attacking move as Matt Grimes and then Jamie Reid had released sweeping passes to open up the defence, but a Griffiths got his angles right as Nichols shot from the left after breaking into the box.
Midway through the first half, the referee allowed for a break in play – as he would later do in the second period – so the players could take on some fluids in the oppressive heat.
Micklewright had an opportunity to net against his former side when a combination of smart passing and fortunate ricochets allowed Buckland to open things up, but his effort was never goalbound and drifted wide to the left.
But Nichols’ opener soon followed, as a pass played blindly by the Bucks’ defence allowed the City man to steal in on goal. After rounding the goalkeeper, Nichols used the run of the incoming Elliott Chamberlain as a decoy before slotting in from a tight angle.
The Bucks hoped to have the opportunity to reply from 12 yards when they put in strong claims for a hand-ball when the ball flashed around wildly in City’s box – however the referee was unmoved and allowed play to continue. In the next passage of play Buckland captain Danny Gaze unleashed a powerful left-footed effort from all of 30 yards which didn’t miss by much.
Half-time: Buckland Athletic 0 Exeter City 1
Buckland’s best chance of the game came shortly after the interval as Karl Green, on as a half-time sub, was visibly disappointed not to have at least found the target with his headed chance as he made firm contact with a hanging corner.
Byrne entered the fray early in the second period in place of Jake Gosling, and the midfielder’s first contribution was to chance his arm at goal when presented with some room to line one up, but his curling effort sailed a foot over the frame of goal.
Nichols’ second might have come much sooner, when a delightfully-weighted chipped pass by Jacob Jagger Cane allowed the forward to take it in his stride and to bear down on goal. He opened up his body and shaped to tuck the ball in the bottom corner, but instead the ball roll wide.
Chamberlain was the next played to be denied – he finished well with a low shot into the bottom corner, but the referee’s assistant, who had been flagging readily, once again brought play to a halt.
But soon after, Nichols got his and City’s second. A raking left-footed pass by Grimes was intercepted but not adequately dealt with by the Bucks’ defence, allowing Nichols to steal in for a late second.
Full-time: Buckland Athletic 0 Exeter City 2
Buckland Athletic: K.Griffiths, Drew, Gaze, Booth, Head (Green 46), Jeannin (Lanyon 76), S.Revell, Carter (McAuley 46), Hammon (Harrison-White 66), Micklewright (Webber 46), D.Griffiths (Burgess 66).
Subs (not used): Phillips, Havlin, M.Revell.
Exeter City: Pym, Heidari, Tillson, Anderson, Wannell, Reid (Rudge 46), Jagger Cane, Grimes, Gosling (Byrne 54), Chamberlain, Nichols.
Goals: Nichols (34, 85).