Match report: Exeter City 1 Portsmouth 1
A thrilling afternoon of football saw the Grecians hold Portsmouth to a well-earned 1-1 draw at St James Park.
A goal from Tom Nichols saw the home side take the lead in the middle of the first half, but a Jed Wallace equaliser ensured that both sides shared the points in this exhilarating start to the 2014/15 campaign.
An electric atmosphere greeted the players as they took to the field, with both sets of supporters evidently anticipating the first competitive fixture of the season.
Due to a raft of injuries and illnesses, Paul Tisdale named himself as a sub in the Grecian’s opening game of the season, while centre-half Jordan Tillson also got his first home start, owing to a metatarsal injury to Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Scot Bennett had his first competitive outing wearing the captain’s armband since taking over his leadership duties this summer.
For Portsmouth, there was a number of former City players returning to St James Park, including goalkeeper Paul Jones, striker Ryan Taylor and midfielder James Dunne, who all started for the visitors. One notable absence from was Patrick Agyemang who was still side-lined with a thigh injury.
The opening 20 minutes saw a number of convincing Pompey moves challenge City’s defence. Early on in the half, Jed Wallace hit the side netting after skilfully cutting inside and letting one fly from just inside the box, while Adam Webster connected with a low corner, only denied by a superb block by Pat Baldwin.
Yet, the Grecians responded well to this pressure and gained some significant momentum during the second quarter. Liam Sercombe, Tom Nichols and Aaron Dawson all looking eager to get on the ball and make some interesting moves forward. Sercombe made some admirable charges down the right wing, while Dawson kept working to make space in the visitor’s half. Nichols came close in the 21st minute, after an excellent City move, sending his shot just over the bar.
City’s efforts were justly rewarded in the 26th minute. Nichols connected well with a low Matt Grimes cross to put the home side ahead. Ben Chorley could have done better to deal with cross, but City looked composed and Nichols was clinical in his finish.
Portsmouth centre back Jack Whatmough did sterling work for the visitors. He denied City a number of times in an intense spell of pressure from the Grecians. Whatmough cleared a number of low crosses from Sercombe and Nichols as the home side continued to press forward. A great shot from Dawson in the 32nd minute was so close, after the wingback pounced on a misplaced Pompey clearance.
City managed to maintain their lead into half time, playing with far-more fluidity and confidence going forward. The result saw Jimmy Keohane coming close, twice, just before the break. A short Sercombe corner saw the Irishman put his shot just wide, and minutes later he slide a low, measured shot to the left of Jones, which was collected easily by the keeper.
Half time: Exeter City 1 Portsmouth 0
The second half at St James Park became an exhilarating, end-to-end affair. In an exact mirror of the first half, the visitors came out to challenge Exeter’s defensive prowess early in the second 45. But unlike the first half, this pressure did not relent.
Portsmouth seemed to shift up a gear during the break, and seemed the stronger side going forward. Whatmough came close in the fifty-second minute, heading a high swinging corner just wide. Two shots in quick succession, from Craig Westcarr and Andy Barcham, were both denied by the gloves of Christy Pym, but demonstrated the intention of the travelling side going forward.
The Grecians did counter on number of occasions, with both Sercombe and Nichols being denied by their former colleague Jones. Yet, the visitors clearly dominated during this half of football.
It was Whatmough who received the first caution of the match following a robust challenge on Nichols in the 58th minute. Exeter also received a caution quickly after, with Craig Woodman being shown the yellow merely 120 seconds later.
City’s defensive lines were heavily pressed throughout the second half, but this did show the resilience of the Grecian back line when under intense pressure. Captain Bennett, Tillson and Baldwin all looking firm and composed at the back only beaten by an excellent Jed Wallace shot. The right midfielder used his pace to cut inside, and slip a low diagonal shot across the box, low to the right of Pym. The visitors had equalised.
The game closed out with a highly energised Pompey seeking the maximum reward of three points, but City held firm and will not be disappointed to go away with a share. The efforts and concentration of the Grecian’s midfield and defensive unit, against a side who on this showing are worth their promotion favourites tag, earned the players an appreciative round of applause on the final whistle. Exeter will perhaps agree that a draw was a fair outcome at full time as the visitors laid siege to our half for most of the second period, but in a thrilling start to the season, Exeter should certainly feel buoyed by the outcome.
Full-time: Exeter City 1 Portsmouth 1
Exeter City: Pym; Dawson, Tillson, Bennett, Baldwin, Woodman; Sercombe (Butterfield, 85) Grimes, Oakley; Keohane, Nichols (Wheeler 79).
Unused Subs: Hamon, Davies, Tisdale, Pope, Watkins.
Goal: Nichols (26)
Portsmouth: Jones; Webster, Chorley, Whatmough, Shorey; Dunne, Hollands; Wallace, Westcarr (Atangana 59), Barcham (Storey 71); Taylor (Bird 87).
Unused Subs: Poke, Wynter, Robinson, Awford,
Goal: Wallace (73)
Attendance: 5,694 (1,548 away)
Referee: Andy Woolmer