A second-half strike from Dean Moxey was all that separated the two sides at The People’s Pension Stadium as Exeter City overcame Crawley Town 1-0 on Saturday.
Exeter City manager Matt Taylor made three changes to the side that overcame Cambridge United in the FA Cup on Tuesday night, with Nigel Atangana, Jack Sparkes and Ryan Bowman starting in place of Alex Fisher, Craig Woodman and Matt Jay.
City started brightly, and Lee Martin did well to create a yard of space after just two minutes in order to find a cross that was headed away by Crawley centre-back Tom Dallison just as Ryan Bowman looked to meet it inside the six-yard box. Crawley responded in kind, with Bez Lubala finding Ollie Palmer with his cross from the Crawley left, but the latter’s header flew wide of Jonny Maxted’s goal.
Nicky Law then fired a free-kick won by Archie Collins just over Glenn Morris’ goal from the edge of the box with 10 minutes on the clock as the Grecians pushed for an opener. City continued to threaten from set-pieces as Randell Williams’ free-kick on City’s right-hand side flew into a dangerous area and took a deflection right in front of the Crawley goalkeeper, but rolled wide.
City definitely had the best of the opening quarter of an hour and when Nigel Atangana knocked the ball back to Archie Collins following a corner, the academy graduate came within inches of putting City ahead with a rasping drive, but the midfielder’s effort was narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Lee Martin was the next City man to go close as Jack Sparkes did well to feed a ball through to him despite being on the floor, and Martin’s powerfully struck effort cannoned off the crossbar and behind. The home side threatened on occasion – notably through Lubala on the Crawley left, whose cross-turned-shot on 29 minutes bounced just wide of Maxted’s left-hand post.
City had the best chance of the game to go ahead when Randell Williams found a superb pass into Nicky Law to play the City man in against Morris, but Law dallied on the ball, allowing Morris to close down the angle and to produce an important save. City then created another chance with a sweeping move cutting across the pitch to eventually find Jack Sparkes in space down the left wing, but his effort flew over the bar. It was a first half that City dominated in terms of chances, but couldn’t break the deadlock.
City started the second period brightly, with Law seeing his shot from the edge of the box saved comfortably by Morris, but nearly went behind five minute into the second period as Palmer set up Nathan Ferguson on the edge of the box, and his driven shot took a deflection that took it to safety away from Maxted’s goal. Lubala then fired in a shot from distance that Maxted was equal to after 53 minutes, pushing it behind for a corner. A reinvigorated Crawley side asserted themselves on the game much more effectively in the second-half and City were nearly punished for missing a plethora of first-half chances as Dallison’s header from a corner looked destined for the net, before a spectacular last-ditch clearance from Pierce Sweeney.
Jack Sparkes then nearly produced a contender for goal of the season, picking up the ball in his own half and then proceeded to single-handedly dismantle the Crawley backline, before seeing his shot deflected over the bar. It was a similar tale for much of the game for City, creating shooting opportunities but ultimately struggling to find a way through Norris.
Sparkes was then required at the other end to produce a fine block on another Palmer effort from inside the City box as the game entered its final 20 minutes. The game ebbed and flowed, and Law had another chance to give City the lead after Ben Seymour improvised a through ball towards Randell Williams, who in turn crossed for Bowman – and the striker’s cushioned header fell kindly for Law, but the City man couldn’t get a shot away before being closed down and the home side cleared.
City would take the lead in controversial circumstances as a Ben Seymour challenge in the Grecians’ penalty area – where he got a slight touch on the ball before taking down Dallison – created a counterattack led by Nicky Law that was turned behind for a corner for City. Williams’ delivery would travel all the way through the penalty area to be turned in by Dean Moxey who slid in at the back post to convert, sending the away end into raptures after 77 minutes.
City nearly doubled their lead immediately with Williams again influential, as he provided an inch-perfect cross that Ben Seymour directed across goal but narrowly beyond Morris’ right-hand post. Seymour again was involved after 88 minutes as he latched onto Bowman’s flick-on, but although managed to get the ball past Morris was unable to get the ball back under control to double the Grecians’ lead.
Maxted was called into action late in the game as Panutche Camara worked a shooting opportunity on the edge of the box, but the ball was straight at the Exeter goalkeeper and he held on comfortably.
It was a game where Exeter created a vast majority of the chances and the Grecians will feel they were good value for the three points.
Attendance: 2,170 (447 away)
CRAWLEY TOWN: Morris, Young ©, Dallison, Palmer, Nadesan, Ferguson (Nathaniel-George 84), Francomb, Sesay, Tunnicliffe, Camara, Lubala.
Subs not used: Luyambula, Boadu, Sendles-White, Galach, Allarakhia, Bloomfield.
Booked: Francomb, Dallison
EXETER CITY: Maxted, Sweeney, Atangana (Taylor 73), A Martin, L Martin (Seymour 58), Law, Williams, Bowman, Moxey ©, Sparkes (Parkes 90+2), Collins.
Subs not used: Visser, Woodman, Parkes, Jay, Richardson.