Exeter City's 11 match unbeaten run was brought to an end as they fell to a 2-1 defeat against Forest Green Rovers at St James Park.
Reece Brown found the net early in the second half with a good finish before Liam Shephard made the points safe for the away side. Aaron Martin found the net in bizzarre circumstances when goalkeeper Robert Sanchez miskicked a clearance in the dying moments of the game.
Grecians’ boss Matt Taylor made two changes to the starting eleven from Tuesday’s draw against Crawley, with Jayden Stockley returning to fitness in place of Matt Jay, while the injured Christy Pym dropped out of the matchday squad – James Hamon starting in goal for City. Former City player Lloyd James captained Forest Green on his return to St James Park.
FGR showed a clear commitment to a possession-based system in the opening stages, frequently opting to play short from defensive dead-ball situations, but they were nearly caught out as City won the ball high up the pitch - quick interplay released Jonathan Forte on the inside-right channel, but the City striker was flagged for offside.
The visitors were the more incisive in the first 20 minutes, and had a great chance to take the lead after 16 minutes as a rapid breakaway found Brown, who cut inside Aaron Martin but delayed his shot just long enough to allow the centre-half to recover, making a last-ditch block.
The Grecians’ first real chance came after 22 minutes, as a pass from Rovers’ Lloyd James hit the heel of another visiting player – Jayden Stockley picked up the loose ball and unleashed a shot from the edge of the box that FGR goalkeeper Sanchez held comfortably.
City were then an inch or two away from opening the scoring – a lovely diagonal over the top from Pierce Sweeney on the right-hand side found Stockley and Nicky Law with an overload, and the former’s header released Law, who dribbled past the goalkeeper but hit the post from an incredibly tight angle.
The game opened up towards the end of the first-half, and Hamon was called into action on 37 minutes, diving low to his right-hand side to get down to Dayle Grubb’s effort. A speculative effort from Jayden Stockley a couple of minutes later then went well wide of the Forest Green goal.
A well-worked move for the visitors would have then given them a great chance to take the lead going into half-time, but a superb recovering slide from Luke Croll took the ball away from Forest Green’s attack at the vital moment.
The visitors came flying out the blocks in the second-half and soon had the lead they’d threatened to take in the first period – Brown curling an effort beyond Hamon and into the very top corner.
The game then settled into a scrappy rhythm that favoured the visitors, and City failed to assert themselves onto the game, and they were punished. With 73 minutes on the clock, Luke Croll misjudged a slide tackle and Forest Green broke at pace, switching the ball from the left to Shephard on the right, and his fiercely hit drive beat Hamon and flew into the bottom left corner.
It took until injury time for City to threaten to halve the deficit; Matt Jay’s spectacular effort flew wide of Sanchez’s goal, but that was about as good as it got for the Grecians after Rovers had doubled their lead.
Somehow, City did get themselves on the scoresheet, as Aaron Martin’s clearance rolled miraculously through the legs of Sanchez in the 95th minute, but it wasn’t enough for Exeter to take anything from the game.
The result places Exeter in third, two points but three places above Forest Green in the League 2 table.
EXETER CITY: Hamon; Sweeney, A Martin, Croll, Moxey; Law (Woodman 80), Tillson (Jay 53), Taylor ©, L Martin; Stockley, Forte (Abrahams 65).
Subs not used: Weale, O’Shea, Collins, Oates.
FOREST GREEN ROVERS: Sanchez, Shephard, James ©, Winchester, Grubb (Archibald 73), Brown, Campbell, Gunning, McGinley, Digby, Mills.
Subs not used: Montgomery, Collins, Williams, Pearce, Archibald, Worthington, Morris.
Attendance: 4, 983 (210 away)