Match report: Accrington 2 Exeter City 3Exeter City earned three points in a pulsating game at the Crown Ground, triumphing 3-2 at Accrington Stanley.
Goals a few minutes either side of half-time from Liam Sercombe and Tom Nichols got City into a commanding position, but a strike from distance by John O’Sullivan halved the deficit.
Matt Grimes curled in a free-kick before sub Seamus McCartan quickly pulled another back, to set up a grandstand finish.
But Exeter held on to move within goal difference of the play-off places.
Forward Alex Nicholls got the nod to go straight back into the starting XI for Exeter City after returning on loan from Northampton Town.
James Hamon retained his place between the sticks, although captain Scot Bennett missed out injured once again meaning Matt Oakley wore the armband again. New arrivals Ryan Harley and Clinton Morrison were both named amongst the subs.
Nichols showed great industry down the right in the opening minute and got to the byline – a low cross was half-cleared and allowed Nicholls to wind up a shot, but it squirmed just wide.
At the other end, Sean Maguire received on the left and cut in off the flank, but his powerful shot found the safe hands of Hamon.
Nicholls again had a half-chance after he sprayed a pass out to the right to Sercombe – the midfielder returned the favour with a deep cross but Nicholls could only direct it into the side-netting.
A frantic start didn’t show any signs of abating but it was the hosts that began to show the more threatening signs. A low cross from the right by John O’Sullivan was flicked extravagantly wide of the target by forward Matt Crooks as another chance for the hosts came and went.
Midfielder Andrew Procter was the latest to go close for Stanley – Maguire’s shot was deflected up and was headed onto the roof of Hamon’s net by the Accrington man.
Referee Andy Haines had to be withdrawn with an injury, meaning one of his assistants was called upon to man the whistle. Immediately afterwards Cummins had a sight of goal but flashed his 20-yard effort up into the stands from the right.
Tom Nichols twice had the ball in the net, only to see the assistant’s flag deny him his goal. The first saw incident saw the flag raised against strike-partner Cummins before he finished low, and he was flagged in the second instance as Hamon’s direct ball was finished with a lob.
Play was halted for a lengthy period when David Noble crumpled in the box with a head injury as Exeter bravely threw bodies in the way of fierce Stanley pressure – Arron Davies was preparing to come on, but Noble returned with a new shirt and a heavily bandaged head.
And the Grecians finally broke the deadlock during the extended first-half stoppage time – it was a delightful delivery from the left byline which was met with a sweet volley inside the box by the arriving Sercombe.
Half-time: Accrington Stanley 0 Exeter City 1
The lead was doubled just after the break as City striker Nichols scored a corker of an effort. Noble played a neat ball in off the left and the forward burst into space and lashed a strike past Jack Rose and into the top corner.
It might have been three a moment later when Cummins almost bundled in a low cross from the right – his effort squirmed into the path of Christian Ribeiro, whose low side-footed drive was deflected just wide.
But instead it was Stanley that got the game’s next goal midway through the second period. O’Sullivan found space to line up a shot unchallenged from 30 yards and arrowed a shot past Hamon in the City goal.
However within four minutes Exeter had re-established a two-goal margin. It was Nicholls that won a free-kick almost 30 yards out with some smart forward-play, and Grimes stepped up to bend an effort over the wall and in.
The goals didn’t stop there – Stanley sub McCartan clawed the hosts back to within a goal as he raced onto a through-ball and slotted with power past Hamon and inside the post.
He might have found the equaliser when he was gifted room to shoot from 20 yards but he snatched at the effort and cleared the bar. Oakley was then called into action to block bravely from Piero Mingoia’s ripping effort.
Harley was given his return in Exeter colours alongside Arron Davies with about 10 minutes left to play, replacing Cummins and Nicholls as Exeter looked to maintain the lead.
The subs combined to good effect and almost earned a fourth for Exeter – Harley laid off for Davies to strike hard and low from the edge of the box, but Rose saved well and eventually gathered.
Exeter were having to defend deep and strongly – Sercombe took a shot in the face from Michael Liddle, and Craig Woodman stood up to deny Kal Naismith a route to goal.
Centre-half Rob Atkinson came close to getting that equaliser for Stanley as he arrived onto a right-flank corner but headed wide.
David Wheeler was Exeter’s final sub, replacing Nichols, as the Grecians tried to see out the four added minutes of stoppage-time.
Stanley put on late pressure and threw everyone forward, but City held on to gather all three points.
Full-time: Accrington Stanley 2 Exeter City 3
Accrington Stanley: Rose; Winnard, Aldred, Atkinson, Liddle; Procter, Joyce; O’Sullivan, Maguire, Mingoia (Naismith 84); Crooks (McCarten 61).
Unused subs: Simpson, Gray, Carver, Hunt, Barry.
Goals: O’Sullivan (65), McCarten (73).
Exeter City: Hamon; Ribeiro, Butterfield, Oakley, Woodman; Noble, Grimes, Sercombe; Nicholls (Harley 79), Nichols (Wheeler 89), Cummins (Davies 79).
Unused subs: Pym, Keohane, Tillson, Morrison.
Goals: Sercombe (45), Nichols (49), Grimes (69).
Attendance: 1,443 (158 away).
Referee: Andy Haines