City make it three league wins in a rowLine-Ups
Hartlepool: Carson, Richards, Harrison, Jackson, Carroll, Featherstone (capt) (Magnay 64’) , Woods (Paynter 64’) , Gray, Hawkins, Bingham, Oates (Thomas 33’).
Subs: Bartlett, Jones, Walker, Fenwick.
Exeter City: Olejnik, McAllister, Ribeiro, Oakley (capt), Holmes (Davies 60’), Nicholls (Reid 90+3’), McCready, Tillson, Grant (Taylor 86’), Stockley, Brown.
Subs: Butterfield, Hamon, Wheeler, Watkins.
Goals: Nicholls 36’, Grant 85’
Referee: Darren Handley
A GOAL and an assist from Alex Nicholls proved the difference for Exeter City as the Grecians came away from Victoria Park with their third league win in as many games.
After a cagey opening half an hour Nicholls headed City in front, connecting with Lee Holmes’ whipped cross from the left-hand side. Despite being under the cosh for much of the second-half the Grecians defended resolutely, and after some fantastic work from Nicholls down the right-hand Joel Grant wrapped up the three points with only five minutes remaining, poking home from two yards out.
There were two changes to the City side that secured back-to-back Sky Bet League 2 victories with the win over Accrington Stanley last Saturday. Captain Jordan Moore-Taylor missed out through injury after picking up a knock last weekend, meaning that Christian Ribeiro was drafted in to partner Troy Brown at the heart of the Grecians’ defence. Notable team news for the hosts was that club captain and seven-goal top-scorer Billy Paynter was deemed fit enough for a place on the bench after an injury-enforced spell on the sidelines.
As the wind whipped off the North Sea and into Victoria Park, it was the home side who carved out the game’s first chance. Within a minute of kick-off Rakish Bingham was first to a loose ball in the City area, but Troy Brown was well-placed to block the former Wigan Athletic man’s driven effort at goal.
Kicking towards the contingent of City fans in the Rink End Stand who had made the near seven-hundred-mile-round trip north east, the Grecians nearly broke the deadlock in the eleventh minute. After Alex Nicholls collected the ball following a Jayden Stockley knock-down, the winger immediately lifted the ball into the path of Tom McCready. The City full-back then connected well with an effort from the right-hand side of the Pools’ box that forced Trevor Carson into a good save.
Both sides struggled to find their rhythm as the game became increasingly bogged down in midfield. It was City that adapted better to their surroundings, though, as once Lee Holmes worked the space to deliver a cross from the left-hand side following a couple of neat step-overs, Alex Nicholls got across his marker to head the Grecians into the lead from twelve yards out.
The away side looked encouraged after Nicholls’ goal, with Stockley beginning to see more of the ball in the final third. The City loanee came within inches of doubling his side’s lead with an effort on the turn, but saw his powerfully-struck effort sail just over the crossbar.
The remaining minutes of the half were played out without incident, and City went in for the break with a one goal advantage after a battling first-half display.
HALF-TIME: HARTLEPOOL 0-1 EXETER CITY
First-half substitute Nathan Thomas should have levelled the game for the home side six minutes after the restart. Following a surging run from deep the ex-Plymouth Argyle winger was presented with the opportunity to strike at goal, but dragged his shot narrowly wide of Bobby Olejnik’s left-hand post.
As the sides once again became locked in a midfield battle, Pools’ manager Ronnie Moore decided to roll the dice, replacing Carl Magnay and Nicky Featherstone with Billy Paynter and Michael Woods as Hartlepool desperately looked to find a way back into the game.
The home fans were invigorated after Paynter’s arrival, and the former Leeds and Swindon striker almost repaid his manager’s faith for bringing him on just five minutes after his introduction. As the ball was swung in by Thomas from the left-hand side, Paynter almost directed the ball towards goal, but Ribeiro got himself in front of Pools’ club captain to make a vital clearance.
Hartlepool went through the gears again three minutes later, threatening two times in as many minutes. City were struggling to contain the threat posed by Hartlepool’s wide men, with Thomas providing the focal point of the Pools’ attack. First the lively winger volleyed over from the left-hand side, before Bingham’s deflected headed spun narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
After some backs-to-the-wall defending, City broke forward to double their lead with five minutes of normal time remaining. Nicholls turned from goalscorer to provider, wonderfully beating his man on the right-hand side before firing a low cross into the path of Joel Grant who finished off the underside of the crossbar from two-yards out.
As most of the home fans began to head towards the exits, Olejnik was called into action again, tipping a header over from close-range. But it was to be City that would edge it in the ninetieth meeting between the two sides, as despite being under the cosh for much of the second half, the Grecians displayed a clinical edge that has seen them go within touching distance of the Sky Bet League 2 play-off positions.
FULL-TIME: HARTLEPOOL 0-2 EXETER CITY
Attendance: 3678 (107 away)
Man of the Match: Alex Nicholls