Exeter City moved back up into the automatic promotion places as they recorded a 2-1 victory at home to Stevenage.
The Grecians were the better side for the majority of the match and deservedly led 2-0 midway through the second half through goals from Lloyd James and Pierce Sweeney, but the visitors kept battling and set up a nervy finish with a volley from Matt Godden 11 minutes from time.
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City manager Paul Tisdale made three changes to the side that beat Forest Green Rovers in an FA Cup replay on Tuesday night.
Out went the suspended Jordan Tillson, along with Dean Moxey and Dan Seaborne. In came Troy Archibald-Henville, Craig Woodman and Hiram Boateng.
City started the match the brighter of the two teams and had the first meaningful effort of the game when Boateng swung a free-kick into the box that Jayden Stockley volleyed goalward. Joe Fryer made a good save though and then got up off the floor to block Jake Taylor’s follow up effort.
Then, on 15 minutes, Pierce Sweeney swung a low cross into the box that McAlinden and Stockley were close to getting on the end of before, two minutes later, Ryan Harley hit an effort from 30 yards which Fryer saved.
Fryer continued his impressive game as he tipped a Sweeney shot out of his net and then saved a sweetly-struck volley from Harley.
The visitors then came close to going in front three minutes before the break, but thankfully Chris Whelpdale’s shot was inches wide of Christy Pym’s post.
Stevenage started the second half with some early pressure, but City went close again on 50 minutes as Stockley had a header tipped over and then, from the resultant corner, Sweeney volleyed wide at the back post.
And City took a deserved lead four minutes later as McAlinden cut in from the right and played a perfect ball into the path of James who held off his defender and side-footed the ball into the bottom corner.
Stevenage started to flood men forward at that point and pinned City back into their own half for a while, without really creating any clearcut chances.
Therefore, it came as a very welcome goal when Sweeney added the home side’s second on 71 minutes. The right-back did superbly well to follow up on McAlinden’s saved shot to fire past Fryer from the edge of the six-yard box.
However, eight minutes later Stevenage were back in the game as Matt Godden hit a volley into the far corner of Pym’s net from a cross in from the left and a good knockdown from Danny Newton. Pym was booked in the aftermath of that goal for dissent as he appealed for a push on a City player.
Jake Taylor had a good chance to make it 3-1 on 85 minutes but appeared to be tugged back by a visiting defender as he tried to get on the end of the long ball and chip a shot over Fryer. In the aftermath of that Stockley was booked for dissent as he appealed for a penalty kick.
That meant, in the 89th minute, Pym had to produce an excellent save from a well-struck shot from Joe Martin.
However, City could have wrapped the game up in stoppage time as substitute Lee Holmes ran at the visiting defence and chipped a cross into the middle for Matt Jay to head against the bar from close range. It did not matter though in terms of the result as City saw the remaining minutes out without any further problems.
Exeter City (4-4-2): Pym; Sweeney, Archibald-Henville, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Taylor (Jay, 90), Boateng, James, Harley (Edwards, 90); McAlinden (Holmes, 78), Stockley. Subs not used: Hamon, Seaborne, Wilson, Reid.
Booked: McAlinden, Pym, Stockley, Archibald-Henville
Stevenage: Fryer; Smith (Beautyman, 66), Martin, King, Wilkinson, Whelpdale (Kennedy, 66), Pett, Samuel (Newton, 55), Godden, Henry, McKee. Subs: Day, Gorman, Conlon, Van Cooten.
Attendance: 3,448 (119, away)