Vil Sinisalo saves a penalty although two strikes either side of the half-time whistle for Blackpool's Albie Morgan proved to be the difference as City suffer a 2-0 defeat at Bloomfield Road.
City travelled 278 miles north to face the side with the best home form in League One, Blackpool. Having picked up seven of the last 12 available points, City were starting to find their feet following a poor run of form earlier in the season; however, the Grecians’ away form still leaves a lot to be desired and few teams have successfully taken points home from Bloomfield Road in the league this season. This game promised to be a real test for Gary Caldwell’s Exeter City.
Caldwell named no changes to the starting XI that beat Carlisle on the previous weekend, although the bench saw the inclusion of new signing Ben Purrington and Will Aimson, who returns from injury. Pierce Sweeney captained the side, making his 350th appearance for City at the same ground where he made his debut in 2016.
Jack Aitchison kicked City off, and played the ball back to captain Sweeney, who played a long diagonal ball to Zac Jules, just overhit and out of Jules’ reach. The game then went on to provide a cagey opening five minutes, giving no clues as to which team would take the points early on.
Alex Hartridge picked up a yellow for a foul on a Blackpool attacker as the ref played advantage, later giving Blackpool a freekick for a following challenge closer to the City area. Morgan stood over the free kick and struck it cleanly, almost too cleanly as Vil Sinisalo was able to read its path and comfortably catch the ball.
City’s first corner of the game came in the 18th minute. Tom Carroll stood over the ball with Dion Rankine to his side, a familiar sight for City fans in recent games. Although, instead of playing the ball short, Carroll whipped the ball into the area and it sat in the six-yard box. In the scramble, Sweeney thundered the ball from close range into the chest of a Blackpool defender who was lying on the floor at Sweeney’s feet.
Sinisalo then made a rare error, misplacing a pass, giving the ball away in a very dangerous position. In the race to close the attack, City’s number one then brought down a Blackpool attacker in the box, being punished with an undisputed penalty kick. The average keeper would let those chain of events get to their head but as City fans well know, Vil Sinisalo is not the average keeper. Jordan Rhodes stood over the penalty and placed it well to Sinisalo’s left, but City’s Finnish international went the right way and kept the ball out with a strong hand. The game remained level and all was forgiven as the away fans chanted “Super Sinisalo in goal”.
Shortly after, Aitchison was having his praises sung by the travelling City supporters. Chasing down a through ball, Aitchison shrugged off his full back on the right flank, leaving the centre back to come across and cover, creating space for Sonny Cox in behind. Aitchison played an, almost, inch-perfect ball through to Cox, but Blackpool’s keeper, Dan Grimshaw was the first to it.
Blackpool took the lead in the 38th minute courtesy of an impressive strike from Morgan. Morgan, who had been playing well in central midfield, found space on the edge of the City area and picked his spot in the top-right corner, putting the hosts ahead before the break. Once play had resumed, it quickly paused again as Morgan alleged that Aitchison had brought him down off the ball, the pair’s disagreement was settled by the referee who awarded them both a yellow card for their verbal scuffle.
The first half drew to a close with City needing to overcome a one-goal deficit if they were to take anything from this tough away fixture.
City came out fighting in the second half with a point to prove, although Morgan quickly deflated the City fans, scoring again from the edge of the box. This time, Blackpool’s corner was deflected to the edge of the area and Morgan volleyed it home. Despite this early setback, City still played with confidence and very few in Bloomfield Road were counting them out at this stage.
The following twenty minutes were an affair of few chances and depleting confidence for the Grecians. In a bid to spark a change and inspire his side, Caldwell made four changes in quick succession, including bringing on Purrington for his debut.
Aitchison came close as a stray ball was lofted into the Blackpool area. The ball came plummeting down with Aitchison running onto it, timing his run well and hitting the ball on the volley. Aitchison did well to keep it down, although his effort ended up being weak and it was collected by Blackpool’s keeper. Following that, Reece Cole had a freekick on the edge of the D that beat the wall and the keeper but unfortunately went wide of the post.
City continued to ask questions of Blackpool but were unable to find the edge to get the ball in the net as the game drew to a close after five minutes of added time.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Rankine (Taylor 70’), Sweeney (C), Diabate, Hartridge (Purrington 66’), Jules (Wildschut 70’), Carroll (Niskanen 66’), Cole, Aitchison, Harris, Cox (Scott 83’).
Unused Subs: Macdonald, Aimson.
Blackpool: Grimshaw, Connolly, Husband, Norburn (C), Morgan, Joseph, Dembele, Coulson, Rhodes, Casey, Hamilton.
Subs: O’Donnell, Gabriel, Dale, Carey, Virtue, Lavery, Expiteta.
Referee: Thomas Bramall.
Attendance: 9,734 (425 away).