Seven days after one of their best performances of the season, Exeter City turned in one of their worst as they were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by an impressive Hartlepool United.
A first half goal by Jack Baldwin put Hartlepool on their way and Luke James and the outstanding Jack Compton added to it in the second half.
It was a far cry from last week when Exeter had performed so well in winning the Devon derby against Plymouth. Hartlepool were quicker to the ball, pressed well and comfortable winners on a disappointing day at St James’ Park.
The Grecians named an unchanged XI to the one that started the 3-1 Devon derby win over Argyle. There was one alteration to the bench, though, with John O’Flynn back after a hamstring problem.
Hartlepool almost opened the scoring in the opening seconds when a slip by Danny Coles gave Luke James a sniff at goal. He let fly from 25 yards out, but dragged his shot wide of Artur Krysiak’s goal.
City responded with Arron Davies poking a shot straight at Scott Flinders after good work by Scot Bennett, who again started as a makeshift striker, and the Welshman then saw an effort with his right-foot deflect just wide.
It was all very lethargic from City, while Hartlepool knocked the ball around with confidence. And it was no real surprise when Baldwin opened the scoring on 20 minutes. It came from a short corner that was eventually played into the box by
To add insult to injury, Danny Butterfield had to be replaced by Jordan Moore-Taylor soon afterwards, but still the Grecians toiled. “Sharpen up” were the very audible calls from manager Paul Tisdale with St James’ Park seemingly suffering from a collective hangover from last week’s derby delight.
James Poole slipped when he shot from 20 yards, Jack Compton fired straight at Krysiak and Matthew Dolan forced the Exeter goalkeeper into a smart stop with another shot from distance.
James broke clear of Coles and bore down on goal, but Craig Woodman got across to put him off and the Hartlepool striker dragged a shot wide of goal.
The half-time whistle could not come quickly enough for Exeter and it was no surprise to see changes at the break. Jimmy Keohane came on for Wheeler and the Grecians went to a 3-5-2. However, they had barely settled into their new shape when Hartlepool doubled the lead five minutes into the second half.
Compton played a lovely weighted pass behind the static Exeter backline and James timed his run to perfection. Equally as good was his first touch, which killed the ball dead before a deft chip over the head of Krysiak and into the net.
This was as bad as Exeter have played for a long time. Their passing was poor, no one seemed to want the ball and it was all so disjointed. There was a real lack of leadership and no goal threat whatsoever.
Hartlepool always looked the more likely to score and it was no surprise when Compton made it 3-0 with a strike through the legs of Krysiak after more questionable defending. That led to O’Flynn replacing Gow, was as ineffective against Hartlepool as he was effective against Argyle.
James Poole dragged a shot wide from distance and in the 88th minute, City finally had an effort on target, which was met by ironic cheers by those inside the stadium.
Exeter City (4-3-3): Krysiak; Butterfield (Moore-Taylor 23), P Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Sercombe, Doherty, Davies; Wheeler (Keohane h-t), Bennett, Gow (O’Flynn 66). Substitutes (not used): Pym (gk), Tillson, Grimes, Nichols.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): Flinders; Duckworth, Burgess, J Baldwin, Austin; Compton (Richards 80), Walton, Dolan, Monkhouse; James (Franks 74), Poole (Sweeney 86). Substitutes (not used): Rafferty (gk), Holden, Rodney, Walker.
Goals: J Baldwin 21, James 50, Compton 62.
Referee: A Davies