Exeter City made it three away wins in a row and four wins from five with a 2-1 away win on their first ever trip to Wigan Athletic's DW Stadium.
Exeter City deservedly took the lead through Mo Eisa's deflected long-range effort, a fair reward for a dominant first-half performance. The second-half had a very different tone, Jack Aitchison's deflected strike gave City a much-needed cushion, before Charlie Kelman clawed one back for the hosts. City's defence remained strong and, following a long 30 minutes, the Grecians claimed all three hard-earned points.
Exeter City came to Wigan Athletic with one point separating the sides, although the Latics had one game in hand. It was the third time this season that the two teams had faced off with both previous fixtures, played at St James Park, resulting in a 2-0 Wigan victory. A win would see City leapfrog Wigan into 13th.
Manager Gary Caldwell named two changes from City’s last fixture in which they came from behind to beat Peterborough 2-1. Mo Eisa made his first start in Grecian colours as he led the line and Pierce Sweeney came back into the side, picking up the captain’s armband.
Reece Cole kicked City off, playing towards the travelling City supporters who were in full voice right from kick-off. City got their first chance of the game within the first minute as Ilmari Niskanen set the ball for Jack Aitchison to hit on the half volley from the edge of the box. Aitchison’s shot went just wide of the near post, but it showed strong intent from the travelling Grecians.
The first corner of the game, which was awarded within the third minute, was Wigan’s. After some intricate play on the edge of the box, narrowly evading an interception from Eisa, the ball went into the City area for a dangerous header – plucked out of the air by Vil Sinisalo. Shortly after, Wigan caught City on the counterattack, stopped by Zak Jules, who fouled his man on the edge of the box. Thelo Aasgaard struck the free kick sweetly and as it flew towards the far post anticipative noises filled the ground. Whilst Aasgaard’s free kick was good, Sinisalo’s save was better, as he leapt to tip the ball out for a consequentially unfruitful corner, Wigan’s second of the game.
The game was open, a goal was coming... and it was going to be City’s! Niskanen intercepted a sloppy pass in the Wigan half, laying the ball off to Eisa on his full debut. Eisa, keen to make an impression, drove towards the Wigan box. Niskanen made a run, peeling off from Eisa and creating space for the Sudanese international to take a shot from range. Eisa’s shot took a heavy deflection as it flew towards the Wigan goal, wrong-footing Sam Tickle and flying in in front of the travelling Grecians, thus commencing a 10-minute chorus of ‘Tequila’ by The Champs, where the title beverage was replaced with “Mo Eisa”, that could become a common feature at City games...
After evading any hint of a quick reply from Wigan, City grew increasingly confident, putting on a display of, what can only be described as, ‘liquid football’. When City had the ball, they were superb, one/ two-touch passing, stepovers, it was a joy to watch. When City didn’t have the ball, they were arguably even better, as Wigan could not get the ball out of their own half. All that was missing for the Grecians was the creation of a clear-cut opportunity and the second goal that their dominance deserved.
Unfortunately, City were unable to make anything of their period of control as they eventually took their foot off the accelerator and Wigan found their way back into the game. The Latics were not able to draw level before the half-time whistle, but they would be confident that they were not out for the count, following a period of sustained possession before the break.
The Latics made a triple change a half-time and came out with a point to prove. The City defence, who were now being subjected to an awkward strip of setting sun, looked less comfortable than they had in the first half. City’s captain, Sweeney was booked for kicking the ball away after Wigan were awarded a free kick, which meant he would have to tread lightly as his flank was targeted by the pace of Wigan’s wingers.
City were under the cosh for the opening 20 minutes of the second half as their attention’s focused towards weathering the Wigan storm. The Latic attack was relentless, but City’s defence remained strong, despite Wigan creating strong chances. But chances don’t win football matches, goals do, and City were about to double their lead.
Against the run of play, City found the net once again, this time it was Aitchison’s shot that was deflected on the back of a well-worked chance. Captain Sweeney dinked the ball in behind to Niskanen who had the ball at the byline. Niskanen wriggled his pass through to Eisa in the box, who bided his time to lay the ball back. Eisa’s pass was blocked but found its way to Aitchison on the edge of the box who created enough space to fire towards goal. Aitchison’s shot was deflected, and again, this wrong-footed Tickle in goal who could do nothing to stop the ball from finding the net.
City’s cushion was quickly removed as Wigan replied through Kelman, who came out on top after a scuffle of tangled bodies in the box. This goal meant that there was one goal in it and City supporters were in for an uncomfortable close to the game.
City continued to create occasional decent chances but Wigan looked the most threatening of the sides. Waves of Wigan attack were controlled by a complete City performance. Every man in a City shirt was chipping in to defend and it would all prove to be worth it come the final whistle...
The fourth official signaled for four added minutes, and they were going to be a tense four minutes as Wigan had the ball in City’s half. The ball went out for a Wigan corner and Tickle went forward, it was make or break for both sides now. The corner was floated in and cleared! Cole collected the ball and ran into the Wigan half, threatening to fire into the open net. Instead, Cole carried the ball and City found themselves able to hold it in the far corner with Yanic Wildschut and Ryan Woods. The referee blew his whistle one last time and City supporters could celebrate another hard-earned three points on the road. City finish the afternoon in 13th position as they continue to create some breathing space between them and the drop zone.
Exeter City's will look to continue their fine run of form against Derby County on Tuesday, February 10th at 19.45 at St James Park.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Niskanen, Sweeney (C), Diabate, Jules, Harper, Cole, Carroll (Woods 89’), Harris (Wildschut 79’), Aitchison (Rankine 79’), Eisa (Cox 67’).
Unused Subs: MacDonald, Aimson, Hartridge.
Wigan Athletic: Tickle, Hughes, Clare, Aasgaard, Jones, Godo, Smith, Chambers, Adeeko, Magennis, Goode.
Subs: Amos, Humphrys, Kerr, Smith, McManaman, Sze, Kelman.
Referee: Alex Chilowicz
Attendance: 9431 (581 away)