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Match Reports

📝 Match Report: Cheltenham Town 1 Exeter City 2

A comeback win on the road.

1 April 2024

Match Reports

📝 Match Report: Cheltenham Town 1 Exeter City 2

A comeback win on the road.

1 April 2024

A late Reece Cole penalty sealed a comeback win for City as they beat Cheltenham Town 2-1 on the road, extending the unbeaten run to five matches!

Exeter City had the better chances in the first half but did not capitalise as the sides went into the break level. Shortly after half time, Ben Williams headed the hosts into the lead. Despite this setback, Luke Harris stepped up and smashed City level before Reece Cole's late penalty proved to be the winner.


A visit to the Completely-Suzuki Stadium saw Exeter City face relegation-battling Cheltenham Town on Easter Monday. A quick turnaround from the Grecians’ last outing in which they conceded a late equaliser to Chartlon Athletic, having led the game for 80 minutes.  

Manager Gary Caldwell named two changes from his Good Friday side as Alex Hartridge entered the starting XI, replacing Ben Purrington who missed the game due to concussion protocol, having taken a blow in Friday’s match. This was Hartridge’s first appearance since January. Mo Eisa came in up front, replacing Sonny Cox who made his way to the bench.  

City’s first chance of the match was wonderfully worked as Yanic Wildschut headed the ball on in behind the last defender to Eisa, who had timed his run well to find himself one-on-one with the keeper. Eisa had the ball at his feet, against a keeper who was off his line, but City’s striker was off to the left of the goal. Eisa opted to aim for the far post, bending the ball around Luke Southwood, but unfortunately sending the ball just wide of the woodwork to a chorus of 'ooo' from the away end.  

City continued to dominate the game for the opening ten minutes, creating a host of shooting opportunities to no avail as they failed to properly test Southwood in goal. Wildschut was causing Cheltenham’s captain, Sean Long lots of problems at right-back as he was able to get in behind him on a couple of occasions.  

The weather turned from what was a beautiful spring’s day to periodic hailstorms as the heavens opened. This was notable because long balls in behind started travelling a lot further on the ground, which Eisa quickly found out as Hartridge’s long ball in behind seemed to speed up out of the striker’s reach.  

Combination play between Tom Carroll, Hartridge, and Luke Harris, saw the latter released to carry the ball across the pitch, evading challenges to eventually switch the play to Ilmari Niskanen. Niskanen picked the ball up on the edge of the box and lined up his shot before it was blocked. The blocked shot only went as far as Ryan Woods who then had a stab at it, forcing an impressive save from Southwood. 

Niskanen was playing with confidence in the opening half an hour, as he took a couple pot shots from outside the box, and even provided the travelling Grecians with a bit of showmanship as he slotted the ball between a pair of Cheltenham legs. 

Cheltenham’s Liam Kinsella picked up the first booking of the game for his challenge on Woods by the centre circle. This foul came in a period where they game had begun to fall a bit flat, with ten minutes to play in the first half. Pierce Sweeney quickly became the second name in the book as he brought down Joe Nuttall, just as a Cheltenham counterattack was starting to build. 

Despite City having the better of the chances, they were unable to capitalise as the sides went into the break level. City would be shooting towards a packed out away end in the second half and hoping to carry their momentum forward.  

As it happened, the opposite occurred as Cheltenham’s Williams gave the hosts the advantage five minutes into the second half. Williams, who was brought on as a half-time substitution made an instant impact, heading in a header at the back-post from a deep cross. Suddenly, City’s afternoon in Cheltenham appeared to become a lot more difficult.  

The onus was now on City to go and get something back from this game, and that’s exactly what they did, responding just five minutes later through Harris. With the ball at his feet, Jack Aitchison drifted towards the Cheltenham area. Aitchison then cut inside from the left and played a sideways pass to Tom Carroll. Aitchison followed his pass into the box, leaving a pocket of space on his flank. Harris spotted this space, and so did Carroll as the latter played a first-time pass back to Harris. City’s number 20 took a big first touch towards goal, getting the ball out of his feet and running onto it. Harris’ second touch was as cool as you’d like it, as he calmly slotted the ball between the legs of the covering defender and into the far post. The ball nestled into the net and City were back in it! 


The next big chance, after the hosts picked up two more yellow cards, for Jordan Thomas and Joe Nuttall, was a goal-line scramble in Vil Sinisalo’s net. A Cheltenham corner saw the ball played into six-yard box. The ball was flicked on towards goal, forcing a reflex save from Sinisalo. The home fans cheered as they thought it was a certain goal, but the home fans underestimated Sinisalo who clawed it out the air and into the path of Sweeney who booted it to safety. A close shave for the Grecians as they game hung in the balance. 

Cheltenham captain, Sean Long picked up a yellow for pulling back Vincent Harper’s shirt. Harper had come on to replace Wildschut, who as previously mentioned, had been giving Long a difficult afternoon. Shortly after, Cheltenham’s Josh Harrop picked up a yellow for a foul on Woods. The game was becoming scrappy with five minutes remaining.  

A smart skill saw Carroll dink the ball over his defender’s leg, forcing the covering defender to smash the ball out for a corner. Onlooking supporters spotted Niskanen in space on the edge of the box, completely unmarked. Cole played the corner short to Cox, who then laid the ball back to Niskanen on the edge of the box. In a rush to cover the Finn, the Cheltenham defender ran towards the ball with flailing arms. Those same arms blocked Niskanen’s shot and the ref quickly pointed to the penalty spot. 

This was it, Cole stood over the ball, took a deep breath and looked towards goal with a packed-out away end watching on anxiously. Cole took five short steps and dispatched the penalty with his right foot, drilling the ball low to Southwood’s left. The away end erupted; City had done it! The comeback was complete, three points secured, the M5 would be full of happy Grecians this evening. 


In the dying minutes, Jordan Thomas worked his way into the box and looked to cut the ball back; however, Woods had other ideas as he executed a fantastic sliding challenge to steal the ball. That was it, game over. The referee blew his whistle one last time and celebrations began. 

Exeter City’s next match is at St James Park against Stevenage on Saturday 6th April at 3pm, click here for tickets. 

Exeter City: Sinisalo (GK), Niskanen, Sweeney (C), Aimson, Hartridge, Wildschut (Harper 58’), Woods, Carroll (Diabate 90+4’), Aitchison (Cole 78’), Harris, Eisa (Cox 58’). 

Unused Subs: Macdonald, Rankine, Alli. 

Cheltenham Town: Southwood (GK), Long, Smith, Freestone, Kinsella, Sercombe, Keena, Ferry, Nuttall, Davies, Pett. 

Subs: Williams, Shepherd, Olayinka, Pardington, Bonds, Harrop, Thomas. 

Referee: Stephen Martin. 

Attendance: 5,657 (1522 away). 

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