A first-half strike from Ryan Bowman proved the difference as Exeter City beat Forest Green Rovers 1-0 at St James Park on Saturday.
Grecians’ boss Matt Taylor made two changes to the starting XI for the fixture, with Jonny Maxted making his league debut for City, while Aaron Martin also came in for Dean Moxey, who dropped to the bench.
City started brightly and, after an intense opening two minutes of pressing, narrowly missed out on reaping immediate rewards as Aaron Martin headed just wide from a corner. A superb piece of skill from Ryan Bowman then set up an incisive attack through Lee Martin, but his eventual cross was blocked having cut inside.
But City were rewarded for their bright start with 11 minutes on the clock – Jack Sparkes drove down the left-hand side, and somehow kept the ball in play under immense pressure, and delivered a superb cross that Ryan Bowman directed home for his fifth league goal of the season.
Bowman’s ferocity nearly earned City a second as he won the ball on the right-hand side, and crossed for Nicky Law – but the latter’s mishit effort rolled just wide of Lewis Thomas’ goal.
The visitors grew into the game after the initial onslaught City had provided on their goal, and Jack Aitchison was the first to test Jonny Maxted with a low driven shot, but Maxted was equal to it and held on to the ball well. An incisive attack down City’s left-hand side nearly produced a chance for the visitors, but Aaron Martin anticipated and slid in late to make a superb block.
City were nearly gifted a second goal after 37 minutes as Nicky Law won the ball off the last Rovers man, but his improvised chip from distance landed well over the visitors’ goal. A harsh decision given against Lee Martin – for a foul on Farrend Rawson – then stopped another dangerous City attack.
Into the second-half, and an entertaining opening 15 minutes proved one of ultimately few chances, the clearest of which fell to the visitors when Adams found himself in space down the left, but his fiercely-hit shot was saved well by Maxted in the Exeter goal.
Nigel Atangana came on for his league debut for City in the 71st minute, adding steel to the City midfield as the Grecians looked to double down on their narrow lead.
Jonny Maxted then produced one of the saves of the season to deny Aaron Collins in the 78th minute – a cross was whipped across the face of goal and Collins, in a yard of space, headed powerfully goalwards, but Maxted threw his body across the goal and did enough to keep the ball out.
Randell Williams then came close to single-handedly doubling City’s lead five minutes later; the winger picked up the ball from Pierce Sweeney down the right-hand side, before beating his man and cutting inside, only to see his eventual shot deflect wide off Rawson. Jake Taylor then had an effort on the volley blocked bravely from the resulting corner.
City were able to see out the remainder of the game to secure a huge three points at St James Park.
Exeter City: Maxted, Sweeney, A Martin, L Martin (Fisher 78), Law, Williams, Bowman, Parkes, Sparkes, Taylor ©, Collins (Atangana 71). Subs not used: Visser, Atangana, Jay, Fisher, Richardson, Moxey, Seymour.
Booked: L Martin, A Martin, Williams
Forest Green Rovers: Thomas (Wollacott 45), Bernard, Rawson, Winchester, Stevens, Collins, Adams, Kitching, Godwin-Malife (Mondal 69), Mills ©, Aitchison (Morton 64). Subs not used: Allen, Taylor, Covil.
Booked: Adams, Godwin-Malife, Winchester.
Attendance: 5,312 (446 away)