Exeter City slipped to a narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Charlton Athletic in Round 1 of the Carabao Cup.
Despite Lee Holmes giving City a second half lead from a free-kick, goals from Billy Clarke and Regan Charles-Cook meant the Grecians will not progress to the next round of the competition.
City made three changes to the side that started the 1-0 league win over Cambridge United at the weekend as Troy Archibald-Henville, Luke Croll and Holmes replaced Jordan Moore-Taylor, Craig Woodman and David Wheeler.
An entertaining first half saw both sides have several opportunities to find the net, but for some excellent goalkeeping and missed chances from close range.
It was the visitors who started brightly, though, with Charles-Cook looking to test City’s incoming left back Croll immediately. The winger initially cut past the defender to the by-line, but the City number 23 did well to get back as Brown intercepted.
But despite the away side knocking the ball around well, City had their first attempt inside five minutes. Reuben Reid did well to hold up the ball for his team mates, before picking out an exquisite pass to find Holmes, whose curled shot was just over.
Moments later, Holmes was in again and running at the Charlton back four before seeing his attempt blocked for a City corner. The resulting set-piece then presented City with an excellent opportunity at the back post, but Dillon Phillips in the Athletic goal did well to block from Troy Brown at the back post.
On 12 minutes City had goalkeeper Christy Pym to thank after he made an excellent save from Charles-Cook, whose close-range effort from Karlan Ahearne-Grant’s low cross, looked destined for the net but for Pym’s block.
The City keeper was back in action minutes later when Tony Watt managed to latch onto Ben Reeves’ chipped through ball, but again Pym commanded his area as he bravely punched away despite Watt’s presence
The visitors then had another good chance, once again Ahearne-Grant causing problems down the City right, but his cross somehow evaded Watt at the back post who was unable to turn the ball into the net.
Despite the away side dominating possession, the Grecians managed to work a good opening on 25 minutes when Holmes managed to find McAlinden, but his effort edged just wide of Phillips’ post.
City then had an excellent opportunity to take the lead, again stemming from the counter-attack. McAlinden, who picked up the ball centrally managed to find Holmes, who picked out Taylor at the back post but his on target header was saved brilliantly by Phillips.
The Grecians then put together a wonderful piece of play as Taylor found Sweeney down the right-hand side, and the Irishman cut in well to fire a dangerous ball across the face of goal, which found Reid whose shot was blocked for a corner.
Paul Tisdale’s men then had the ball in the net through Brown’s thumping header at the far post from a corner, but referee Tim Robinson adjudged the City defender to have fouled Naby Sarr as Athletic were awarded a free-kick.
The away side came out after the break with similar intent to that of the first half, often using their wingers to get behind the City backline.
Ahearne-Grant had Athletic’s first real chance of the half when he managed to get on the end of a low cross from the right, but not for the first time, he was unable to find the net putting his effort wide of Pym’s goal.
But it was City who broke the deadlock first just after the 50-minute mark when Holmes’ in swinging free kick evaded everybody in the penalty area to nestle into Phillips’ bottom left-hand corner to give the forward his first goal of the season.
City had the ball in the net again, but once again they were denied by the linesman’s flag after Holmes had got on the end of a McAlinden cross from the right-hand side to bundle the ball in at the far post.
Tisdale’s men were then presented with a golden opportunity to strengthen their lead when McAlinden latched onto a long ball forward to get in behind the Charlton back line, but he could only fire his left footed shot straight at the onrushing Phillips.
But for all City’s efforts, the away side continued to battle and drew level on 71 minutes when substitute Billy Clarke saw his low effort deflect off the City defence, who were sliding in to block, but the ball looped over Pym and into the net.
The away side then took the lead just seven minutes later through the lively Charles-Cook, who managed to find space in the City box to fire across Pym into the far-left corner.
The match took a further twist just moments after Athletic took the lead when Andrew Crofts received a straight red card for a very strong challenge from behind on City sub Matt Jay, who had just entered the field.
The Grecians continued to battle, and in injury time almost drew level when Lloyd James’ stroked effort towards the bottom right corner was saved well by Phillips.
City were unable to find their way past a strong Charlton side, who did everything they could to hang onto possession in the final moments of the match.
Exeter City: (4-4-2) Pym; Sweeney, Archibald-Henville (Jay, 81), Brown, Croll; Taylor, Tillson, James, Holmes (Byrne, 73); McAlinden, Reid (Brunt, 81)
Subs not used: Hamon, Woodman, Wheeler, Moore-Taylor
Charlton Athletic: (4-2-3-1) Phillips, Jackson, Crofts, Reeves (Clarke, 58), Konsa, Aribo, Ahearne-Grant, Sarr, Charles-Cook, Watt (Hackett, 67), Dijksteel
Subs not used: Bauer, Kennedy, Umerah, Barnes, Maynard-Brewer
Booked: Reid, Tillson, Charles-Cook
Red Card: Crofts
Attendance: 2,699 (inc,308, away)