Report: Fleetwood Town 1 Exeter City 2
Scot Bennett was the goalscoring hero for the Grecians at Exeter once again completed a turnaround to win 2-1 away at Fleetwood Town.
The Grecians had gone behind to a Matty Blair strike late in the second half, but Bennett – playing as a makeshift striker in the closing stages – rounded off two fine moves to send the travelling fans home jubilant.
An injury-ridden City squad were only able to name six players on the bench for the trip to Highbury, three of which making first competitive appearances in the matchday squad. James Hamon, Jordan Tillson and Danny Butterfield all began on the bench for the first time for the Grecians.
It also meant a second league start for Tommy Doherty in midfield, and a first start for Jamie Reid since his 90 minutes against Queens Park Rangers in the Capital One Cup in the opening week of the season.
The Grecians began with a rather different shape and style to the usual – Pat Baldwin, Danny Coles and Scot Bennett filling three centre-half positions, with Arron Davies and Craig Woodman in wing-back positions.
The system was certainly containing the Cod Army and allowing City to build from the back – and early evidence of that came as a passage of play built from the back saw Reid released on an early foray. The Northern Ireland under-21 international would have had a clean passage to goal, but for the recovering tackle of Nathan Pond.
Fleetwood weren’t getting much chance of a route to goal, and shots from Gareth Evans and Junior Brown from either side left Artur Krysiak untroubled.
A powerful drive from 25 yards by Antoni Sarcevic did have the City stopper scrambling as it flashed inches wide, and it was a deflection that took it away from the target as referee Haywood signalled for a corner.
The Grecians were circulating the ball well and forcing sloppy play from their hosts – although Fleetwood were having more of efforts on goal. Ryan Cresswell, up from centre-half, skimmed the crossbar with a powerful header from 12 yards.
Reid was proving effective on the counter-attack and after Liam Sercombe fed the striker careering towards the right byline, his low cross was no more than a yard away from being perfect for Alan Gow to tap in. As things transpired, it just evaded the Scotsman.
Towards the end of the half, it Fleetwood began to make things tick a little and Krysiak was called upon to tip a Steven Schumacher shot just over the woodwork.
From the resultant corner, the Polish stopper was called upon to make an even finer stop down low as Pond rose highest to head on target.
Half-time: Fleetwood Town 0 Exeter City 0
City started the second half in much the same fashion of containing possession play – though Jeff Hughes managed to find space to sting the palms of Krysiak from a central position. David Ball’s follow-up was weak and was collected comfortably.
Despite City’s good play, they were nearly punished for an unusually loose clearance which Evans gobbled up. The former Rotherham man hit a side-footed effort from the inside-left channel which bobbled a fraction wide.
Hughes drew two fine saves out of Krysiak again from the left-hand side – the first needing the slightest of fingertips to be turned around the far post, and the second blocked well at the near stick.
David Wheeler and Danny Butterfield were both introduced around the hour mark, freeing up Scot Bennett to take up a centre-forward’s role with Reid one of those to depart.
With 20 minutes remaining, the hosts did finally find the net. Substitute Blair was allowed to cut in from the left and fired a cross-shot towards the far post, which just nestled inside the post.
City reacted well though and Sercombe was teed up by Bennett and had a stabbed shot deflected just wide.
But moments later Bennett showed just why Paul Tisdale opted to let him lead the line. Gow slipped through a delicate ball into Bennett’s path, who finished with the most natural of finishes on his left boot.
And no sooner had City equalised, they went ahead – again through the same combination. Gow was allowed room to cross from the right and he hung a ball up which looped up and over Scott Davies and was turned in at the back post by the makeshift front-man.
City were striking a good balance between attack and defence – clearing their lines whilst threatening well.
Jordan Moore-Taylor was a late introduction for the Grecians in place of captain Danny Coles, who had picked up a late knock.
Bennett was within inches of completing a hat-trick in stoppage time as a near-perfect ball over was a matter of inches from his forehead.
Full-time: Fleetwood Town 1 Exeter City 2
Fleetwood Town: Davies; McLaughlin, Pond, Cresswell, Howell; Brown (Blair 46), Sarcevic, Schumacher, Hughes, Evans (Matt 65); Ball (Parkin 80).
Subs: Lucas, Murdoch, Roberts, Hogan.
Goal: Blair (71).
Exeter City: Krysiak; Woodman, Bennett, Coles (Moore-Taylor 89), Baldwin; Sercombe, Oakley, Doherty (Butterfield 58), Davies; Gow, Reid (Wheeler 60).
Subs: Hamon, Tillson, Grimes.
Goals: Bennett (75, 79).
Referee: M. Haywood