Exeter City reacted to Saturday's defeat at Bolton with a goalless draw against Shrewsbury Town at a chilly SJP.
City struggled to get a foothold on this game. Individual moments sparked excitement around St James Park, although they never looked likely to score from open play. City's best chance came from Reece Cole, who whipped a dangerous free kick just shy of the near post.
Following a heavy defeat away on Saturday – the pressure was on for City to take points from Tuesday’s home game to Shrewsbury. The Shrews sat 12th in the League One table, six points ahead of City who are facing one of their worst runs of form in recent history.
Looking to turn the tide, manager Gary Caldwell named three changes: Dion Rankine, Yanic Wildschut and Cole came into the starting XI. Cheick Diabate, who has played as centre forward in his last two fixtures, despite traditionally being a centre back, kept his spot in the forward line.
Having swapped sides, Exeter City kicked off towards the Big Bank, though they quickly lost possession and found themselves under pressure from a Shrewsbury attack. As the last man, Pierce Sweeney dove low to head away and intercept one attack before Zak Jules stopped another on the other side of the pitch.
City began to grow into the game and by the quarter-of-an-hour mark were seeing the better of the chances.. Diabate got himself in a wonderful position to head the ball at goal but was deemed offside; Wildschut beat his man with pace on the left, as he did a few times in the opening twenty minutes; and there were a few close-calls in the Shrewsbury area that either resulted in goal kicks or unfruitful City corners. Jordan Shipley received a yellow for asking the referee to book Ilmari Niskanen and the Big Bank became fired up. This was a positive start for City who looked much brighter than in previous weeks and the most likely of the two teams to score.
Following a quiet five minutes, Wildschut inspired an exciting spell for City, charging through the centre of the park as City found themselves in strong shooting positions without pulling the trigger. City had their best opportunity of the half in added time, with City players again creating opportunities without shooting, dancing around the edge of the box before passing the ball off to their neighbouring teammate: eventually, Ryan Trevitt took his chance, testing Marko Marosi who parried into the path of a Shrewsbury defender to clear.
The first half ended even with City being the better of the two sides, although they never looked all that likely to score. Caldwell’s half-time talk would have to inspire his attackers to be more confident in-front of goal, before Shrewsbury could steal one for themselves and shut-up shop.
If Caldwell’s advice was to shoot more, the City players listened, testing the keeper from range on a couple occasions. City’s first real opportunity of the second half came as Shrewsbury gave away a free-kick for a handball on the edge of the box. Cole, who has recently signed a contract extension, came very close to showing just why: setting up on his right, He whipped the ball over the ball, past the keeper but just clipped the outside of the post. The Grecians continued to pressure the Shrewsbury end, this time a misplaced cross from Trevitt – though he may have claimed it if it had gone in – threatened to loop over Marosi in the Shrewsbury net. Marosi stumbled back and clawed the ball out of the air, very nearly stepping back into this own goal.
Caldwell made a double change twenty minutes into the second half: Diabate and Rankine were replaced by James Scott and Kyle Taylor. Again, after a quiet period, it was Wildschut who inspired the City attack, bursting down the left-hand side and winning a corner. Cole’s corner was cleared, and Shrewsbury set off on a counterattack leaving Niskanen alone to defend two Shrewsbury attackers. The Finn positioned himself wonderfully, forcing the second attacker to run wide and, by the time he received the ball, to too tight of an angle to have an effective shot on goal.
City nearly paid the price for not taking their opportunities as Udoh drove a low shot to Vil Sinisalo’s right. Sinisalo pulled off the heroics, diving low and tipping the ball wide of the post. This moment sparked a period of chaos at SJP: end-to-end football with both teams looking as though they could steal the three points. Vincent Harper and Harry Kite came on to bring some fresh legs to the City attack: Harper broke across the field from the left; running across the edge of the box, shooting with his right, across his body Harper’s shot was too soft, resulting in a comfortable save for Marosi.
As the game entered the first of three added-minutes, City were looking like the favourites. Carroll floated the ball behind Trevitt who teased the crowd with an attempt of an overhead kick, though he was unable to get a decent connection on the ball. The game ended a goalless draw, meaning the teams shared the points on a night where City will be disappointed to not have taken more.
Steps were taken in the right direction as City’s defence remained solid throughout, keeping a clean sheet and never looking too threatened. On the other hand, City’s offensive struggles continued as their best opportunity of the game came from Cole’s free kick on the edge of the box.
With a free weekend due to the FA Cup, City return to action at SJP against Port Vale on Saturday 9 December.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Jules, Aimson, Trevitt, Cole (Carroll 77’), Wildschut (Harper 86’), Niskanen (Kite 86’), Rankine (Taylor 67’), Sweeney, Aitchison, Diabate (Scott 67’).
Unused subs: MacDonald, Hartridge.
Shrewsbury Town: Marosie, Anderson, Winchester, Bowman, Udoh, Pierre, Bennett, Dunkley (C), Dunkley, Shipley, Mata, Kenneh
Subs: Burgoyne, Benning, Sobowale, Owusu, Godwin, Loughran, Whitney
Referee: Alan Young.
Attendance: 5,288 (169 away).