Exeter City’s winning run came to an end on Wednesday night after they suffered their first defeat in five matches with a 2-1 loss to Swindon Town.
The Robins took the lead after 20 minutes through Sonny Haynes, before the hosts doubled their advantage in controversial circumstances five minutes after half-time, with Haynes nodding home a dubious free-kick.
In response, the Grecians dominated proceedings and they pulled a goal back with 11 minutes remaining through Jordan Dyer.
The Devon outfit thought they had levelled on 85 minutes when Theo Simpson scored, but he was adjudged to have been offside in what was another close call. No equaliser meant the visitors went down to their first defeat since the start of December, but there was plenty of positives for Chad Gribble and his players to take away from the exciting encounter.
The match began evenly, with both sides trading blows, looking for ways to make the early breakthrough. As a result, the two teams lacked a real rhythm to their play, making the contest pretty scrappy, yet competitive.
The game began to settle as it approached the 20-minute mark, and off the back of that, it was Swindon who scored the opening goal of the game.
City lost possession as a result of an inaccurate pass, allowing their opponents to counter-attack quickly. Having worked the ball to the right flank, the Wiltshire club’s cross evaded everyone in the middle aside from Haynes at the far post, who diverted the ball past away goalkeeper Felix Norman.
As a result of the goal, Exeter began to get a foothold in the game, enjoying some decent spells of possession as they pressed forward in the hope of an instant reply.
Nelson Iseguan perhaps had the Grecians’ best chance midway through the first period, when he dribbled around the home keeper. However, the winger’s heavy touch forced him wider than he wanted to be, and Iseguan was only able to fire a shot into the side netting.
The Devonians again tested the Town shot-stopper later on in the half with a free-kick, but he matched the effort with a smart stop to keep it to a one-goal game up until the interval.
The intentions were promising from the visitors after the break, showcasing some neat periods on the ball at times, but, despite the encouraging signs, it was the Robins who scored again on 50 minutes.
After intercepting a pass from Gribble’s men, the hosts attacked out wide, before winning a free-kick from James Dodd’s tackle in the corner of the pitch. The set-piece was delivered into the box, and the dangerous delivery was headed home by Haynes to increase his, and his team’s, goal tally.
Despite the setback, City regrouped, and they dominated proceedings afterwards. Good play from Joe Belsten saw the right-back link up with Simpson, however the forward could only put the ball over the crossbar as he stretched out a leg towards the cross.
Substitute Lewis Wilson also came close to scoring when he spurned a one-on-one chance against the Swindon goalie but hope was restored to the away side when Dyer was able to pull a goal back in the 79th minute.
Dodd got played through on goal before he was illegally brought down by some desperate defending. Dean forced a good save from the Wiltshire goalkeeper and Dyer reacted to the loose ball first and he tucked a shot away from close range.
Exeter continued to apply all of the late pressure following the goal, and on 85 minutes, they were to be denied a second by the linesman’s flag.
Dodd slipped in Simpson, and the striker coolly finished his opportunity. The Grecian celebrations were cut short though as the assistant referee believed Simpson had strayed beyond the last defender when put through.
That frustrating moment meant the visitors saw their winning run come to an unfortunate end, and they travelled back to Devon pointless, when they perhaps deserved something out of the competitive contest.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “It was a frustrating night, but I’m pleased with the way we went and played there. We felt there was a foul in the build-up to their second goal, and after looking at the footage we thought our disallowed goal should have stood, but these decisions are part and parcel of the game, and over the course of a season it probably balances out. What hurts the most is when it costs you a point or more at the time.
“The boys can take a big lesson from the game. Against a decent team like Swindon, the game can come down to fine margins. They’ve taken their two great chances, whilst we have created decent openings but only come away with the one goal.
“Once we settled down and found a rhythm, we hurt Swindon in the areas we wanted to. We did create chances, and we have got to be more clinical at the top end of the pitch. However, I can’t be too critical of the players because we’ve created, and scored, lots of chances in our previous four games.
“There were certainly good aspects in our performance in what was a really good game of football. Like I have mentioned before, this group has a lot of good characters, and they respond well to defeats. They are a young and hungry squad, and I’m looking forward to getting back onto the training pitch with them to prepare for our Youth Alliance Cup semi-final against Northampton Town this weekend.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Joe Belsten, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Will Dean, Charlie Lawrence, Nelson Iseguan, James Dodd, Theo Simpson. Subs: Jack Stafford, Jack Veale, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson.