IF IT was a lack of patience that was the reason behind a goalless draw at Mansfield Town in Exeter City’s last away encounter, then it was a lack of killer instinct that proved costly in a 2-0 defeat at Morecambe on Saturday.
The Grecians matched the Shrimpers in pretty much every department except the final third as the home side’s Kevin Ellison bagged a brace to end the Grecians’ unbeaten start in League Two.
It was a game where City will look back and think “what if” had they taken a number of opportunities that came their way. Unfortunately, Sam Parkin tried to tee up someone else, when he should have gone for goal, and John O’Flynn spurned several chances.
At half-time, though, there was no need to panic. City had done well and past history suggested that they would not be a bad bet to go on and win the game from a goalless position. But they made the worst possible start to the second half and never recovered.
Just two minutes after the break, and with City’s defence seemingly still in the Globe Arena dressing rooms, Ellison rose unmarked ten yards from goal to head emphatically past Artur Krysiak from Jack Sampson’s cross.
The Grecians’ initial response was good, although the chances created were less clear cut than they were in the first half. Paul Tisdale changed things with the introduction of Jimmy Keohane and Alan Gow, but both players were largely ineffective. Gow looked a different player to the one that tormented League Two defences a year ago.
Last season, in racking up a club-record 11 wins on their travels, Gow was a talismanic figure. This season, he has struggled to match that standard and only contrived to give away a number of silly free-kicks when the Grecians found themselves in good positions at Morecambe.
The Glaswegian was one of the first names on the team-sheet when fit and his importance to the cause was perhaps illustrated by Exeter’s inability to pick up points in his absence. Not so this campaign, where he is yet to start a League game, with Tisdale preferring instead to partner Parkin and O’Flynn.
Twelve months ago, Gow scored one of the most jaw-dropping individual goals of the campaign at Accrington Stanley with his cheeky ‘rabona’. How Exeter need their most gifted creative force to find form – and soon.
The Grecians are not a one-man show, though. There is sufficient talent within the squad to have got something from the long trek to the Lancashire coast, but it was one of those days where nothing seemed to go Exeter’s way.
One of the few positives to take from the game was another industrious performance from Dave Wheeler, who again looked like being Exeter’s most likely creator. He delivered a superb cross for Parkin, which really should have been meat and drink for the former Swindon man. But instead of heading for goal, he opted to try and set up a team-mate, only for the ball to hit a defender and be hacked clear.
The best chances seem to fall the way of O’Flynn. He hit the outside of the post with one effort, saw another deflect just wide and headed wastefully past the post after being set up by Parkin.
His best chance came on the stroke of half-time when he went through on goal, but ended up going too far wide and again, the chance went begging.
You always get the feeling that if Exeter are level at half-time, they will kick on in the second half, as they did at Morecambe last year where a 0-0 interval scoreline ended in a 3-0 away win. Keeping it tight was imperative, but the Grecians instead contrived to shoot themselves in the foot by leaving Morecambe’s most potent marksman unmarked straight after the restart to head in the opening goal.
The Grecians’ passing, so effective in victory against AFC Wimbledon last week, was letting them down.
Tisdale opted for a central midfield partnership of Matt Oakley and Tommy Doherty instead of Oakley and Matt Grimes, who had performed so well on his debut.
It was an understandable call from Tisdale to leave the prodigious 18-year-old on the bench, especially with the game of a more robust nature to the one against the Dons. But Exeter missed Grimes’ ability to play, pass and move with nonchalant ease.
City were always vulnerable to a goal on the counter-attack and so it proved nine minutes from time. Ellison was again the scorer, but, at first, it seemed the chance had gone after a heavy first touch. His second was cute, lofting the ball over Krysiak. Danny Coles tried in vain to keep the ball out, but merely ended up in the back of the net.
It was the only time Exeter managed to find it.