Sam Nombe scored a 92nd minute winner as the Grecians halted their losing run with a win over Fleetwood Town.
Carlos Mendes Gomes’ effort put Fleetwood ahead after half an hour, but an equaliser from Jay Stansfield little over a minute later set City on their way, before Nombe bundled in the winner in injury time.
Interim boss Kevin Nicholson made two changes to the side who were beaten by Oxford United last weekend, with Josh Key and Cheick Diabate, who had been absent for six weeks, returning to the starting line up in place of Rekeem Harper and the suspended Pierce Sweeney.
The early exchanges at a drizzly St James Park marked a significant improvement on the previous showing on home turf, with City showing heart and aggression from the off. A little over three minutes from the off, Diabate was almost the hero on his return as he headed wide after being given the freedom of Exeter from Collins’ corner. Hartridge’s header soon after suggested City would be a threat aerially, with his effort into the keeper’s hands.
It wasn’t one-way traffic though, with Danny Andrew’s free kick dipping wide from the edge of the box, before Harry Kite was on hand to flick a dangerous cross away as the Cod Army edged their way back into the game.
Indeed it was Lancashire side who took the lead – against the run of play – in fortuitous circumstances. It was Carl Johnston on the right who started the move before he pinged the ball centrally to Mendes Gomes, who had a go from the edge of the box. The ball took a wicked deflection off Kite on its way through, wrongfooting Blackman who was helpless to the situation.
From the restart, City responded almost instantly as Jevani Brown set Sam Nombe off on his merry way towards St James Road as a burst of pace took him to the edge of the box, before flicking the ball into the area for Stansfield to fire home with a first time finish – the first a Stansfield goal was scored at St James Park since January 2010.
Both sides cancelled each other out until the final minute of the half when City came close to going ahead. Stansfield showed superb vision for Nombe to bare down on goal, but the keeper beat City’s no.10 to the ball – just – as Fleetwood survived a scare.
Into the second half, City continued on the front foot as Stansfield forced a stunning save from Fleetwood stopper Jay Lynch, who palmed about the striker’s header from Sparkes’ pinpoint cross. Sparkes was enjoying a left side battle with Mendes Gomes and beat the Spaniard again, winning a free kick after he was pulled back.
The 61st minute saw all four sides of SJP remember BBC Radio Devon and Plymouth Argyle commentator Gordon Sparks who passed away last week as they rose in applause.
The City fans were applauding again as Hartridge pulled off a miraculous block to deny Mendes Gomes’ effort from testing Blackman, before Josh Earl fired wide for the Cod Army. The game looked to be heading towards a fair 1-1 draw before the Grecians turned on the style in the last ten minutes.
Tim Dieng’s free kick was deflected for a corner, before the set-piece saw the Frenchman involved again as Lynch made a superb stop to deny his header.
Seven minutes were added to the end of the game, with City still determined to find the winning goal. That they did thanks to Josh Key and Sam Nombe combining for a stoppage time winner.
Key linked up with Caprice on the right, holding up the ball on the byline before using his pace to beat the defender and race into the box, playing it into the six yard box for Nombe to bundle it home and sparks fantastic scenes in the Big Bank.
City end the day 8th in League One and travel to Derby County on Tuesday evening for a 7.45pm kick off.
Exeter City XI: Blackman, Caprice, Key, Diabate (Harper), Hartridge, Sparkes, Collins ©, Kite (Dieng), Brown, Nombe, Stansfield (Jay).
Subs not used: Lee, James, Chauke, Cox.
Fleetwood Town XI: Lynch, Andrew, Wiredu, Mendes Gomes, Vela ©, Morton, Lane, Batty, Johnston, Earl, Baker.
Subs: Stolarczyk, Garner, Holgate, Omochere, Hayes, Teal, Glenfield.
Referee: Tom Nield
Attendance: 5,834 (99 away)