Dean Moxey’s strike deep into first-half injury time proved the difference in a win for Exeter City as they overcame Stevenage at St James Park.
The Grecians put in a dominant display in the first half, and they scored the all-important goal when Moxey was in the right place at the right time to fire home in a crowded penalty area.
City then defended well for the rest of the match, as they kept a clean sheet to continue their good run of form.
City manager Matt Taylor made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 at Port Vale on Saturday, with Lee Martin and Jordan Tillson dropping out for Lee Holmes and Jonathan Forte.
The Grecians were lightening quick from the off and were unfortunate not to take the lead within the opening minute, as pressure from Forte created an improvised shooting opportunity for Jayden Stockley, but his powerfully hit effort hit the visiting goalkeeper Seny Dieng - and the upright - before rebounding away from the Stevenage goal with only 40 seconds on the clock.
City dominated possession in the opening exchanges, and Dieng was again called into action after 8 minutes as a superb pass from Stockley found Nicky Law wide on the left-hand flank; his cross was met by Forte, but the looping header was held easily by the Swiss shot-stopper.
Play was brought to a halt after the quarter of an hour mark as the medical team at St James Park were required to treat a supporter who had been taken ill. Of course, Exeter City's best wishes go out to those involved in the incident.
Stevenage made the first half a scrappy one, persisting with fouls in the City build-up, but one of the home side’s best chances of the opening 45 came as a result of a good passing move that eventually fell to Hiram Boateng on the edge of the box. His shot hit Stockley, however, and was then cleared.
The Grecians’ target-man was then unlucky not to score himself, as he received the ball on the inside right channel a few moments later, but he blasted the shot over the bar after making a good shooting opportunity for himself.
Law was the next man to chance his luck for the Grecians; a delightful in-swinging cross from Lee Holmes was met by the winger’s head, but the effort landed on top of the Stevenage goal after 37 minutes.
The Grecians were not to be denied, though, and took the lead deep into first-half injury time as they were presented with a flurry of chances following an error by Dieng in the Stevenage goal. His fumble gave Forte a chance that was scrambled away, but only as far as Jayden Stockley, though the striker – normally so reliable from close range – saw his effort hit the bar. City were not to be denied and the rebound fell very kindly for Moxey, who smashed home with his left-foot in what proved to be the last action of the half.
City could have been two goals up within 10 minutes of the restart, as ingenious link-up play between Boateng and Law resulted in a cut-back from the latter to the former, but Boateng’s effort curled wide from close range.
Law was involved again a couple of minutes later, combining with Forte, whose intricate through ball set the winger through, but his left-footed effort under pressure rolled agonisingly wide of the Stevenage goal on the hour mark.
The visitors responded to the pressure by opening up the game and launching attacks of their own; Luther Wildin gained some joy down the Stevenage right-hand side, bombing on from right-back, and on 65 minutes his cutback presented Ben Kennedy with a shooting chance from the edge of the box. But the effort was severely mishit and flew well wide of Christy Pym’s goal.
Exeter threatened to double their lead with less than 15 minutes to go as substitute Lee Martin was released down the Exeter right-wing, and it was met strongly by Stockley who was denied by a superb save by Dieng. The loose ball then fell for Chiedozie Ogbene, but an array of bodies between him and the Stevenage goal somehow kept the ball out.
Stevenage nearly made the Grecians pay dearly straight after – a clever lofted through ball wasn’t dealt with by Luke Croll, and Alex Revell pounced, though pressure from the onrushing Pym and the recovering Aaron Martin did just about enough to deny the Stevenage man a clear sight of goal.
The closing period was typically open, with midfields often bypassed in favour of more direct attacking options, though City’s task got that much easier after the visitors were reduced to ten men. On the counter, substitute Ogbene drew another foul from Stevenage defender Wildin, and it was an easy decision for the referee to give the right-back his marching orders, with the player having already been booked.
City saw out the remainder of the game without conceding any more chances; the high-line employed by Matt Taylor proved dividends even late in the game as aggressive defending prevented the visitors from creating any significant chances.
Exeter City: Christy Pym; Pierce Sweeney, Aaron Martin, Luke Croll, Dean Moxey; Lee Holmes (Lee Martin 66), Jake Taylor ©, Hiram Boateng, Nicky Law; Jonathan Forte (Ogbene 74), Jayden Stockley.
Subs not used: Hamon, O’Shea, Tillson, Jay, Abrahams.
Stevenage: Seny Dieng; Luther Wildin, Michael Timlin (Ball 88), Scott Cuthbert, Joel Byrom, Alex Revell ©, Ben Kennedy, Steve Seddon, James Ferry (Sonupe 68), Danny Newton (Guthrie 80), Ben Nugent.
Subs not used: Will Appleyard, John Hunt, Alex Reid, Luke Wilkinson.
Sent-off: Wildin (83).
Attendance: 3,671 (56 away)