Exeter City bounced back from Saturday’s defeat at Burton with a credible 0-0 draw against a strong Shrewsbury Town side.
Both teams played some neat stuff in the first half, however, Tom Bayliss and Kevin McDonald were unable to convert the best opportunities for their respective clubs.
While neither goalkeeper was called largely into action across the whole game, the best of the chances fell City’s way late on when Alex Hartridge’s header was kept out by an athletic save by Marko Marosi.
The point gained for the Grecians could end being one of those results that will up be important in the long run, with Gary Caldwell’s men ending the night still in the top half of the standings.
Caldwell made four changes to his starting XI after Saturday’s defeat to Burton Albion with McDonald handed his full debut for the Grecians. Salop on the other hand, who were the league’s in-form side coming into the contest, opted for three centre-halves, with former SJP favourite, Ryan Bowman, spearheading their attack.
Despite a change of system employed by the hosts, they started proceedings brightly and on the front foot, with runs from Jay Stansfield and Joe White stretching the Town backline in the opening minutes.
The visitors however reacted to their opponents bright moments and should have taken the lead on nine minutes following an attack down the right. Veteran Elliott Bennett stormed down the flank, before his low ball wasn’t really deal with at the near port. The ball came to Bayliss, who guided a volley over Gary Woods, but against the crossbar, much to the disappointment of the Shrewsbury fans behind the goal.
The Devon outfit had displayed periods of patient play in the opening quarter of an hour, and another passing move helped the hosts create their first opening, however, White’s curling effort from the edge of the box was comfortably stopped.
Woods made a routine stop again to deny Salop, but it was his teammates playing the nicer stuff, and another sweeping move gave them another sight of goal in the 19th minute. After playing their way through the thirds, Harry Kite moved things onto Josh Key. The winger’s inside ball located White around 20 yards from goal, but his shot went wildly into the Big Bank.
Another instance of patience was displayed seven minutes later when the Grecians’ reluctance to work the ball into the danger area worked in their favour. Stansfield ended up teeing up Exeter new man, McDonald, who aimed for the top corner from distance. The midfielder’s powerful strike though was tipped around the post by Marosi.
As the game ticked past the half-hour mark, Town sparked back into life, and they won themselves a free-kick when Key was adjudged to have fouled his opposite man. Bennett took control of the resulting set-piece, and the former Norwich City man guided his free-kick just past the right-hand post.
Luke Leahy’s cross carved open another chance for the away team. After Bowman competed in the air, the ball fell to his strike partner, Christian Saydee, but the forward scuffed a shot off-target.
Despite the promise of both sides, the match required a spark to ignite things, and it almost came after 39 minutes in the shape of a counter-attack. Key was fouled in his own half, but McDonald and Kite helped play continue. Archie Collins carried the ball forward before laying it to his left, before Demetri Mitchell, who had been lively in the first period, sliced an effort wide when he should have done perhaps a little better.
Two minutes before half-time, City had to be at their best defensively to halt their opponents. Another Bennett’s delivery caused issues inside the danger zone, and with the cross never properly cleared, the ball fell for Saydee, but some heroic blocks from a combination of Harry Kite and McDonald alleviated the danger.
The away side created the first real opening after the restart when they moved the ball from left to right. Once again Bennett got high up on the right flank, and his low cross towards Saydee was smothered behind by the Exeter defence for a corner. Moments later, Bayliss fired horribly over.
The City response was good, and a couple of shouts for a penalty came from the St James Park crowd as both Collins and Stansfield both felt they were fouled near the the edge of the 18-yard box.
Caldwell was the first to turn to his bench, and he introduced James Scott to replace White in the hope so new energy could be introduced to the Devonians attack. However, on the hour mark, Salop’s Leahy volleyed towards goal, to keep the home defence honest, and the ball was eventually cleared.
A double change in the 72nd minute prompted a change of formation from Shrewsbury, as Rekeil Pike and Tom Bloxham entered the fray. The latter almost had the desired effect for Town, as he helped create another opening for Bayliss, but he curled over.
The SJP crowd, who had little to get excited about in the second half, were almost out of their seats as we entered the final 15 minutes. Key’s corner was directed to the near post, before Alex Hartridge evaded his marker and reached the ball first. The centre-back’s glancing effort looked bound for the back of the net, but a fantastic save from Marosi pushed the ball clear.
While Bowman volleyed one chance high over the crossbar, the impetus stayed with Caldwell’s men, and the Grecians manager opted to introduce Sam Nombe and Jake Caprice to help find his team a late winner.
But for all of the replacements, and seven minutes injury time added on, the quality levels rather dropped and clear-cut chances were at a premium. A flick from Key fed the ball into the path of Stansfield, but he could only send a cross into the side netting.
But while the Exeter players looked to steal all the points from several late set-plays, the game petered out to a goalless draw, putting an end Town’s win streak, and putting City somewhat back on track in League One following their point-less trip to Burton ahead of a tricky away trip to Port Vale on Saturday.
Exeter City: Woods, Kite, Aimson ©, Hartridge, Grounds (Sweeney 90+3), Key, Collins, McDonald (Caprice 81), Mitchell (Nombe 81), White (Scott 58), Stansfield (Harper 90+3)
Subs: Sparkes, Chauke
Shrewsbury Town: Marosi, Leahy ©, Moore (Pyke 72), Winchester, Phillips, Bowman, Bennett, Bayliss (Street 90+3), Dunkley, Saydee (Bloxham 72), Shipley
Subs: Burgoyne, Barlow, Bailey
Referee: Ben Speedie
Attendance: 5661 (204 away)