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Match Reports

📝 Match Report: City 0 Portsmouth 0

City draw against Portsmouth

29 December 2023

Match Reports

📝 Match Report: City 0 Portsmouth 0

City draw against Portsmouth

29 December 2023

Exeter City secured a hard-earned point against table-topping opposition in Portsmouth. The game could have gone either way as both sides came close but in the end, defences came out on top and City continued to pick up their form.

Hot off the back of securing a win that had long eluded them, the Grecians faced table-topping Portsmouth. Pompey, having won three of their last five games, promised to be tough competition for a struggling Exeter City side. 

As the game drew out, it became clear that the match on the pitch was very different to how it promised to be on paper as City caused Portsmouth more problems than they had bargained for. Both defences stayed strong as Cheick Diabate won Player of the Match and the rest of the City backline put in an equally valiant performance.Tracks.png

Manager Gary Caldwell named one change from the side that beat Wycombe Wanderers three days prior, as Ilmari Niskanen came in to the starting XI to replace the injured Yanic Wildschut as he did in the first half of Tuesday’s game. City Academy graduate, Jack Sparkes started for the visitors. 

Jack Aitchison kicked City off, playing towards the St James Road end and quickly showed Portsmouth that the Grecians weren’t going to roll over as easily as the visitors had hoped. After an intricate back-heel from Niskanen to release Sonny Cox, Cox put the ball into the area – cleared by a towering Portsmouth defender before it could reach the looming figure of Dion Rankine. 

Portsmouth then enjoyed a period of sustained pressure for the next 15 minutes, showing the onlooking supporters exactly why they are first in the league, playing impressive passes across the park, met by equally impressive touches to bring them down. However, without making any particularly threatening opportunities, the visitors would have to step up a gear if they were to beat City’s solid backline.  

City came close halfway through the first half with a set-piece straight off the training ground. After Niskanen won City a corner, Tom Carroll stood over the dead ball with Rankine to his right. Rankine received the ball from Carroll, danced past one, then played the ball into Cox who was deeper into the box. Cox then played the ball back to Carroll who was in space by the corner flag, leaving Rankine to run untracked into the six-yard box. Carroll played an inch-perfect ball to the unmarked Rankine who headed just wide of the near-post. 

City then got their best chance of the first half as captain Reece Cole profited from Alex Robertson’s heavy touch on the edge of the Portsmouth area. Cole played the ball just ahead of Cox who was one-on-one with the keeper, Cox was unable to stretch enough to get decent contact on the ball, tapping the ball towards the keeper who gladly collected the ball as he sighed a sigh of relief. 

After three added minutes, the half time whistle blew to conclude 45 minutes of even football. Either side could have been ahead but neither looked all that likely to break the deadlock. 

The second half opened with fireworks, at one end Cheick Diabate came to the rescue, sliding in to block a close-range effort. At the other end, a goal-mouth scramble had the Big Bank on its toes before Portsmouth’s defence came out on top. The quality of the game then dropped for the next 10 minutes as the ball was ping-ponged around in the middle third. Neither team were able to grab hold of the game, although City had the best opportunity as Cox was fouled on the left-wing, allowing Cole to whip an unanswered cross into the back post from the free kick. 

Shortly after, Will Aimson made a seemingly fatal mistake but then quickly recovered with a stunning challenge. An unthreatening lofted ball came towards City’s number 4 who set himself up for a routine header. Unfortunately, Aimson miscued, and his clearance quickly became a through ball for the Portsmouth attacker who darted into the penalty area. Aimson matched all attackers for pace and stretched to soften the shot, allowing Vil Sinisalo to calmly claim the ball. 

Caldwell made his first substitution of the match midway through the second half, bringing on Kyle Taylor to replace Cox as Jack Aitchison moved to become the lone striker. City, now playing towards the Big Bank, were playing with confidence. This was against the script for Pompey supporters who had their hearts in their mouths as City had a penalty shout with Taylor falling to the ground in the area. The referee quietened any calls for a foul, although this did not dishearten the City supporters who continued to will the Grecians forward. 

Caldwell’s second substitution of the evening saw Harry Kite replace Niskanen, the former of whom becoming pivotal in an unfruitful, yet awe-inspiring City attack. Intricate play between Kite, Cole, Carroll, and Aitchison saw the ball move from just inside City’s half to the edge of the Portsmouth area. With the Big Bank sucking the ball in towards them, SJP witnessed a style of football more commonly associated with Camp Nou. One and two touch football, back heels and ball rolls, the entire Exeter City attack combined to put Cole in a decent shooting position outside the box, although he dragged his shot just wide. 

Caldwell then made his third and final substitution of the evening as James Scott’s fresh legs looked to break the deadlock. As the game entered additional time, Rankine won City a corner on the right wing as his cross was blocked. Cole delivered the cross to the near post although it was cleared and Portsmouth looked to quickly counter, stopped by City’s rock at the back, Diabate. 

The referee blew his whistle one last time and City’s last game of 2023 ended in a draw. A performance against table-topping opposition that should leave City supporters feeling content as they move into their next fixture against Reading on New Years Day.  

Exeter City's next home match is against Carlise United at 3pm on Saturday 6th January.

Exeter City: Sinisalo, Jules, Aimson, Hartridge, Carroll, Cole (C), Niskanen (, Cox (Taylor 69’), Rankine, Aitchison, Diabate. 

Subs: MacDonald, Scott, Kite, Sweeney, Richards. 

Portsmouth: Norris, Pack, Roberston, Bishop, Whyte, Rafferty, Shaughnessy, Raggett, Sparkes, Devlin, Lane. 

Subs: Schofield, Towler, Scully, Saydee, Morrell, Yengi, Kamara. 

Attendance: 8,322 (1,335 away).

Referee: Sunny Gill.

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