City claimed a point late on in an end-to-end game against Lincoln City, as they halted their losing run.
City went behind early as Alistair Smith smashed in Paudie O’Connor’s assist from close-range. Then, following 60 minutes of close-calls at both ends of the pitch, momentum swung in the way of City as Ryan Trevitt equalised for the hosts.
Manager Gary Caldwell named four changes, bringing in Harry Kite, Pierce Sweeney, James Scott, and Reece Cole who has served his one-match suspension. The Grecians set up in a new look 3-4-1-2 formation with a strike partnership of Scott and Admiral Muskwe leading the line at a slippery SJP.
City won the first corner of the game through a Demetri Mitchell cross that flew off the shin of an Imps defender, it could have gone anywhere but thankfully for Lincoln keeper Lukas Jensen, it went into the St James Road Stand.
Lincoln’s number 21, Hakeeb Adelakun quickly showed SJP he would be a handful as he changed direction whilst bringing the ball down. Bursting towards the City backline, he chopped with his right and created enough space to release a venomous strike with his left, not enough to beat Vil Sinisalo who parried the ball away for a corner. The corner was then taken by Adelakun whose delivery didn’t match his footwork as the ball sailed over the box and out for a throw-in.
Cole then showed everyone in SJP how a corner is supposed to be taken, whipping the ball into the danger area and causing some panic in the Lincoln ranks. Lincoln quickly turned defence into attack, however; countering quickly courtesy of Adelakun entering a footrace with Mitchell to chase down a through-ball that would see the Lincoln attacker through on goal. Mitchell was never going to lose that one. City’s number 7 swept up the danger and the game remained level.
The opening 20 minutes were as open and chaotic as you would expect from two sides both playing to win on a slippery pitch. The ball was moving unpredictably and waiting to be poked into a goal at either end of the pitch.
Unfortunately, it was Lincoln who were able to capitalise first. Adelukan took a long throw-in on the left-side of pitch which fell to the feet of Imps captain, O’Connor. The City box was crowded and braced for pandemonium: Instead, O’Connor found the feet of Alistair Smith with just enough space to smash the ball in the direction of the City. The ball flew past Sinisalo, who was blinded by the number of players in the box and Lincoln took the lead.
Throughout the next ten minutes, both teams looked as though they may score. City’s best chance in this period came as Scott found himself in space on the end of a cross and headed into the path of Jensen, so close yet so far – unfortunately, a sign of things to come for the remainder of the first-half for City.
The most clearcut of the opportunities came as Mitchell slipped Muskwe through to be one-on-one against Jensen. Muskwe had time and space in front of the Lincoln goal, opening his body up and slipping the ball with his right to Jensen’s left, beating the keeper but skidding just wide of the far-post. City went into the break behind but showing positive signs.
The second half began quietly, not what Grecian supporters would have wanted to see given the energy shown before the break. Caldwell made a triple change 15 minutes into the second-half, looking to inspire the City attack.
Yanic Wildschut, Tom Carroll and Vincent Harper came on and all made a positive difference. Wildschut looked particularly sharp, creating an opportunity on the left-hand side of the pitch, and dragging a low-effort just wide of the near-post. Harper then won a free-kick on the edge of the box for Mitchell to take. Curled towards the back-post with his left, Mitchell forced a diving save from Jensen who did well to keep his side ahead.
Ryan Trevitt then delivered a sight that the Big Bank have been missing. Mitchell took the throw-in from the right corner flag at the Lincoln end and found Pierce Sweeney on the edge of the box. Sweeney looked to cross but instead opted to slip the ball back to Mitchell, who beat his man and delivered a cross at chest-height across the face of the goal. Trevitt pounced as the first man to the cross and headed the ball low, beating Jensen and equalising the game.
From that moment onwards, the atmosphere in SJP totally changed and City were on the front foot. Mitchell had an opportunity to put City ahead, bursting through and curling an effort just wide of the far-post.
Just before the 90th minute, Lincoln’s captain pulled a manoeuver that would have been more appropriate at Sandy Park. Harper had the ball on the counterattack and O’Connor couldn’t keep up with him, so opted to grab Harper by the scruff of the neck with both hands and drag him to the ground. SJP erupted and the referee gave O’Connor a yellow, to the surprise of everyone in the stadium. Sinisalo protested this decision and the ref decided that this was worthy of the same punishment, booking City’s keeper.
The six minutes of added time provided absolute cinema for the spectators, tensions rose and after a period of constant pressure the game would climax with one final City chance. Alex Hartridge had the ball in his hands by the corner flag, looking to deliver a trademark long throw into the box. The ball was lofted in and cleared by a Lincoln defender, ending the game at 1-1.
Whilst City didn’t manage to come away with three points, they showed true grit and character to rescue a point from the game and those heading down Stadium Way at 5pm can take confidence that the rot has perhaps been stopped.
The Grecians face Middlesborough at home in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup at a sold-out St James Park on Tuesday 31st October.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Kite (Harper 58’), Sweeney, Aimson, Hartridge, Mitchell, Cole (Taylor 90+3'), Trevitt, Aitchison (Carroll 58’), Scott, Muskwe (Wildschut 58’).
Unused subs: MacDonald, Fitzwater, Diabate.
Lincoln: Jensen (GK), Sorensen, Erhahon, Smith, Hamilton, O’Connor, Burroughs, Adelakun, Roughan, Mitchell
Subs: Wright (GK), Brown, Bishop, Duffy, Eyoma, Makama, Vale.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 5,612 (189 away).