Two goals in the last 10 minutes gave Exeter City a deserved three points with a 2-0 win over Port Vale at St James Park.
Grecians boss Matt Taylor made three changes to the side that was held to a 2-2 draw against Leyton Orient on Saturday; Ben Seymour was rewarded with a start alongside Tom Parkes and Jayden Richardson in a rotation that saw Aaron Martin, Randell Williams and Lee Martin all drop to the bench.
Port Vale created the first opening of the game after five minutes, with Cristan Montano delivering a powerfully-hit cross to the back post to find Richie Bennett, but his effort on the volley was a comfortable save for Lewis Ward in the City goal.
In a tight opening exchange, Jack Sparkes created City’s best chance after 18 minutes – a mazy run from the left channel culminated in a shot from the edge of the box that Scott Brown got a solid hand to just as it looked bound for the top corner.
City had the upper hand, but struggled to create clear chances with Ben Seymour’s drive after 25 minutes rolled agonisingly wide of the left-hand post. Jayden Richardson also found some joy with incisive runs down the right-wing, but Vale’s defence style stood stern.
Even when a breakthrough looked likely, it wasn’t forthcoming – Sparkes’ corner was met powerfully at the back post by Nicky Law, whose header was well saved by Brown, before Tom Parkes’ effort on the rebound was also saved.
Law would see another effort go awry as a shot from outside the box, though struck cleanly, flew over Brown’s goal five minutes before the interval, as the sides went in goalless.
City started the second half brightly, with Dean Moxey’s cross flashing across the face of goal just two minutes into the second-half, but ultimately to no avail.
Set pieces were proving fruitful for the Grecians as they pushed for the opener – Law’s corner in the 56th-minute caused confusion in the Vale box and gave Pierce Sweeney the chance to pull the trigger, but his shot was blocked.
It was from another corner that City were inches away from opening the scoring, as Law’s delivery was met by Bowman – the striker was only able to divert the ball onto the post, however, before the ensuing melee resulted in Sweeney’s shot fly high and wide.
The visitors responded in kind; Cristian Montano struck a fierce shot from the left-wing that Ward saved well ten minutes after the hour mark, but Vale were unable to sustain a period of prolonged possession and City were soon able to clear their lines.
Nicky Law was at the heart of everything positive that City did, and an innovative touch on the inside right channel set up Randell Williams to shoot, but his effort was blocked well by the Vale defence. A mix-up at the back then nearly allowed Ryan Bowman in to score, but Brown saved well with his legs and Lee Martin was unable to convert the loose ball.
But with ten minutes to go, City finally got what they deserved. Substitute Lee Martin received the ball from Williams, and fired a shot at goal that Brown didn’t pick up clearly, and the Vale goalkeeper palmed the ball upwards – but only towards the head of Ryan Bowman, who made no mistake from close range.
Exeter nearly doubled their lead in the following minutes, again threatening from a corner, as Randell Williams’ header was saved sharply by Brown, but the Grecians were not to be denied – Williams again involved, delivering a superb cross down the right-hand side that Lee Martin met with a deft finish over Brown.
It was the last meaningful act of an entertaining game, and a fruitful one for City, who were ultimately rewarded for a strong performance.
Exeter City: Ward, Sweeney, Law, Bowman, Parkes, Richardson (Williams 63), Moxey, Sparkes (A Martin 87), Taylor ©, Collins, Seymour (L Martin 63). Unused substitutes: Maxted, Woodman, Jay, Fisher.
Port Vale: Brown, Crookes, Joyce ©, Legge, Kennedy, Worrall, Montano, Smith, Taylor (Cullen 84), Browne (Lloyd 66), Bennett (Pope 78). Unused substitutes: Maddison, Pugh, Burgess, Brisley.
Booked: Smith, Taylor, Crookes, Worrall
Attendance: 3, 765 (143 away)