Exeter City suffered an agonising defeat at the hands of a late-winner as they lost 1-0 at home to Barnsley.
Despite creating some dangerous chances and hitting the post twice, City fell victim to a late-winner from John McAtee.
Manager Gary Caldwell named two changes from City’s midweek loss on the road at Charlton Athletic. Pierce Sweeney and Jack Aitchison came into the starting XI, replacing Jack Fitzwater and Tom Carroll, looking to take 3 points from Barnsley and end The Tykes’ 4-game away win streak. City captain Will Aimson remains in the starting XI after his red card, which he received on Tuesday night, was overturned following an appeal.
Five minutes in, Mitchell earned a free kick 30-yards out. Gambling on a loose ball, Mitchell engaged in a game of chicken with Jamie McCart who clattered Mitchell to the floor and in doing so picked up a yellow card. Reece Cole stood over the free-kick and cleverly played the ball on the near-side of the one-man Barnsley wall; the keeper was beaten but it was just wide! Down the other end, Alex Hartridge put in a last-ditch tackle, that could have been a penalty if it weren’t so perfectly timed. Shortly after, a mis-hit cross from Herbie Kane threatened to loop over Vil Sinisalo who was forced to bring out the acrobatics to tip the ball over for an unfruitful Barnsley corner.
The game continued to be an open affair, end-to-end action with Mitchell’s pace on the left-wing and Vincent Harper’s technical dribbling on the right asking questions of Barnsley’s fullbacks. Just past the half hour mark, James Scott dropped deep, creating space for Mitchell to run in behind, found by a lobbed ball from Hartridge: Mitchell brought the ball down and tussling with a Barnsley defender, rounded the keeper, though he found himself with too acute an angle to thread the ball between the near post and the tumbling Barnsley goalkeeper who recovered and saved the ball with his flailing legs.
Just before the half-time whistle, City were under the cosh, with Barnsley enjoying a period of sustained possession in City’s third of the pitch. That was until Harper got on the ball, absorbing all the pressure by carrying the ball from within his own box to the half-way line, eventually being brought down by Callum Styles who picked up a yellow for the foul. The half-time whistle blew and the teams went in level.
The second-half began with some beautiful football from City, intricate passes around the centre circle between the midfielders. If Caldwell is the conductor, his orchestra was playing particularly tight thanks to his instructions off-stage at the interval. This opening piece crescendoed with Harper running in behind the Barnsley defence and winning City a corner. Whilst Cole’s low-driven corner did not end in a goal, it was a promising start for the Grecians.
City continued to knock on Barnsley’s door, 15 minutes into the second-half. Harper continued to toy with the Barnsley defence, whipping a high-cross into the box, meeting the head of Mitchell who climbed to be the highest in the area, heading wide. Then, hot off winning City’s September Goal of the Month, Mitchell surely thought he had secured October’s too. Dancing through the Barnsley defence, Mitchell shot with the outside of his foot from outside the box. The Big Bank rose to its feet as the trivela smashed against the back-post, Harper was there at the rebound but could not quite find his feet to capitalise.
Following a period of sustained pressure, City were quickly reminded that the game was in the balance and they could not fall asleep at the back. Whilst all of Barnsley’s dangerous advances were dealt with, they did leave Grecians with hearts in their mouths, as they came close on a couple occasions through Sam Cosgrove and Devante Cole.
In the 89th minute, Barnsley burst City’s bubble. There was a feeling within SJP that City might be caught out, and they were. Owen Dodgson took a corner for Barnsley and McAtee towered over the City defenders at the back-post to head home. A dagger in the hearts of Grecian supporters. City came back strongly but to no avail. Caldwell made two positive changes, bringing on Sonny Cox and Admiral Muskwe, as the Grecians piled on the pressure. A scramble in the Barnsley box saw Mitchell hit the box for the second time in the game but it just wasn’t meant to be.
The records will show a fourth-straight league defeat for City but the supporters will know they deserved something from this game. A combination of misfortune and failure to be clinical meant City ended the day 11th in the League One table.
City's next game is at home in the EFL Trophy versus Arsenal U21's on Tuesday October 10, 19:15 kick-off.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Harper (Wildschut), Sweeney, Aimson (C), Hartridge (Cox), Jules, Kite (Muskwe), Cole (Taylor), Aitchison (Trevitt), Scott, Mitchell.
Unused subs: Woods, Richards.
Barnsley: Roberts, Williams (C), De Gevigney, Cadden (Dodgson), Kane, Russell (Phillips) Styles, O'Keeffe (Cotter, McCart, Watters (McAtee), Cole (Cosgrove).
Unused subs: Killip, Sheperd.
Referee: Scott Jackson
Attendance: 6542 (600 away)