George Ray netted his first goal for Exeter City as the Grecians were held to an entertaining draw by Rochdale.
The defender’s towering header was cancelled out by Max Taylor’s wonder strike on in a cold winters battle at the Crown Oil Arena.
Jake Beesley missed a first-half penalty and Josh Andrews hit the post for the home side. Padraig Amond was denied a late winner by a strong Jay Lynch.
As the snow topped Dales offered a picturesque setting, there was only one enforced change for Matt Taylor’s side. Scott Brown was handed an Exeter City debut for the absent Cameron Dawson.
City, buoyed on by the impeccable vocal Grecian support, had the first effort of the day on five minutes. Jake Caprice took aim from range, though Dale keeper Jay Lynch was untroubled.
Rochdale warmed the home crowd in the ninth minute. Twice the City centre-halves had to endure stingers as shots from Conor Grant and Aaron Morley tested the back line.
George Ray had to clear from the line as Rochdale looked to play around the Exeter box. The Number 5 managing to stop Grant from opening the scoring with a left foot effort.
Despite having long spells of possession Exeter were almost broken down on the counter-attack. Alex Hartridge had to come across to deny Jake Beesley a free shot on goal. From the resulting corner, Josh Andrews blazed wide
On half an hour Rochdale’s directness forced a penalty. Josh Key adjudged to have fouled Grant in the box but Jake Beesley could only hit the post in a well-needed reprieve for Exeter.
Up the other end City almost took the lead themselves. Sam Nombe muscled his way through the midfield and crossed for the rushing Archie Collins in the centre. Collins touch took him slightly wider and the Dale defence got across to block.
The game opened up and Beesley again found space around the back though Scott Brown was comfortable making his first save as a City player.
Tim Dieng had a header steered wide and a pop shot easily dealt with by Lynch as we edged toward the break.
Jevani Brown had the first attempt of the second half. He expertly brought the ball down on the turn and set his sights from the edge of the box. Easy for Lynch but a bright start to the second period.
The momentum favoured City and Matt Jay looked to take advantage of the rising winds. Lynch had to be on full alert to parry away the captain’s swirling strike.
Rochdale came the closest to breaking the deadlock. Abraham Odoh jinked his way into the Exeter box and without Hartridge’s nick could’ve found the bottom corner.
And just before the hour mark the Grecians took the lead through George Ray’s first goal for the club.
Exeter recycled a long Alex Hartridge long throw on the far side. Matt Jay hooked a ball back into the Rochdale 18-yard area. The centre-backs stayed up and Ray used his eternal neck muscles to guide the ball into the corner.
Ray didn’t forget his day-job though and found himself heading clear a dangerous Dale attack from inside the six-yard box.
Matt Jay went close to picking up the goal of the season award when his left-foot volley troubled the Rochdale keeper. Alas the scoreboard was unmoved.
Rochdale needed a bit of magic to get themselves back into the game and they found it through Max Taylor. The ball fell nicely to the defender from the edge of the box and his powerful effort gave Brown no chance.
Exeter’s luck was with them as the post came to the rescue on 75 minutes. Josh Andrews rattled the woodwork from 20 yards.
Podge Amond had a great chance to put Exeter ahead in the final few minutes. A lovely ball through from Nombe set the Irishman in but Lynch made himself big and thwarted the opportunity, which proved to be the last of the match.
Rochdale AFC: Lynch, O’Keefe, Taylor, O’Connell, Morley, Beesley, Grant, Dorsett, Odoh, Andrews, Kelly
Subs: Coleman, Dooley, Broadbent, Done, Cashman, Brierley, Scanlon
Exeter City: S. Brown, Key (Sparkes 83’), Sweeney, Ray, Hartridge, Caprice, Dieng, Collins, Jay, J. Brown (Amond 78’), Nombe
Subs: Lee, Sparkes, Amond, Grounds, Kite, Edwards, Coley
Referee: Andy Haines
Attendance: 2,102 (321 away)