Sport

Accrington Stanley 2 Exeter City 3: League 2 report

Reds rue missed chances as they come out on wrong side of five-goal thriller

Sean Maguire's shot is blocked by Danny Butterfield's arm

STANLEY managed to put on a show on Friday night, as manager John Coleman demanded.

But the Reds missed the chance to close in on the League Two play-off places, coming out on the wrong side of a five-goal thriller.

Liam Sercombe and Tom Nichols scored either side of the break for Exeter before John O’Sullivan gave Stanley hope in the 65th minute.

Although Matt Grimes made it 3-1 with a superb free-kick in the 69th minute, substitute Shay McCartan struck four minutes later to keep the Reds in it, but the Grecians held on to win a match which delivered some cracking goals.

Stanley’s two efforts matched Exeter’s but that didn’t matter to Coleman. He was only interested in the ones that didn’t go in.

“They’re a good side and we knew all about them,” said Coleman. “We spoke about that in the week.

“But what we trained at we didn’t really put into practice. We didn’t press them enough.

“Having said that, we created more chances than them. They were more ruthless than us in front of goal and that’s what won them the game.

“They weren’t better than us. They played some pretty football but didn’t really hurt us.

“We missed three good chances before they scored and on another night we’d have got a penalty early on. If we took one of those chances I think we’d have won the game.

“We huffed and puffed, got ourselves back in the game, then they get a farcical free-kick which they scored from. Sometimes things just conspire against you. We’ll play a lot worse than that and win.”

Exeter were the first to go close as Nichols got in behind left-back Michael Liddle. His cut-back found Sercombe, whose shot was blocked by Rob Atkinson before Alex Nicholls dragged his shot wide from the edge of the box.

The Reds replied with O’Sullivan warming the palms of visiting keeper James Hamon with a 25-yard strike and although Liddle’s cross found Matt Crooks, the on-loan striker’s header didn’t just fail to test Hamon, it didn’t even go out of play.

Sean Maguire had a shot blocked by Danny Butterfield’s arm but the referee, Andy Haines, deemed it wasn’t a deliberate handball.

Crooks struggled to hold the ball up against the experienced duo of Butterfield and Matt Oakley, neither of whom are established centre-halves.

Yet they were vital to Exeter’s style of play as they always looked to get on the ball and pass out from the back so while Stanley enjoyed the better chances, the visitors showed they were just as good a passing side as Coleman had stated in the build-up.

A fine cross-field move saw Sercombe exchange passes with Christian Ribeiro down the right before digging out a cross which Nicholls turned into the side-netting at the far post.

Following a free-kick into the Exeter box, Maguire hit a shot into the ground which bounced kindly for Andy Procter, who sent a looping header just over.

After O’Sullivan’s mazy run, Maguire saw a shot blocked, and from an O’Sullivan cut-back, Crooks tried a flick from close range which went off target.

Exeter midfielder David Noble needed treatment after a blow to the head while the ref had to be replaced due to injury, and one of the first decisions the new man had to make was that a back-pedalling Hamon didn’t carry Dean Winnard’s wayward cross over his line.

Graham Cummins and Luke Joyce were off target at each end while another Joyce shot was blocked following a corner routine.

As half-time approached, Atkinson and Aldred did well to snuff out an Exeter attack but the Grecians kept the pressure on to open the scoring in stoppage time.

Noble, now sporting a head bandage, played in Craig Woodman down the wing and the left-back delivered a perfect cross for Sercombe to volley high past Jack Rose from the penalty spot without even breaking his stride.

The visitors then doubled their lead four minutes into the second half. Following a throw on the Exeter left, Noble fed Nichols, who was allowed to run inside and unleash a 20-yard shot which took a slight deflection off Atkinson before swerving past Rose.

Ribeiro almost put the game beyond Stanley when his close-range effort was turned wide by Rose at his near post.

But O’Sullivan pulled a goal back from nothing. Maguire found him in a central position and the on-loan Blackburn winger fizzed a 30-yard strike just inside Hamon’s right-hand post.

Yet Exeter swiftly regained a two-goal cushion after being awarded a debatable free-kick 30 yards out, which Grimes curled over the ball and into the top corner.

Still the Reds didn’t give up, though, and O’Sullivan hit a fierce cross just over before Joyce played the ball in to Maguire.

The on-loan West Ham striker laid it off to McCartan, who knocked it round Butterfield and ran onto the ball to bend it into the bottom corner from just outside the box.

Stanley now pressed for the equaliser with O’Sullivan firing over from 25 yards. Maguire’s shot was blocked by Grimes and the ball came out to McCartan, who fired over from the edge of the box.

A corner was cleared as far as Piero Mingoia, whose shot was also blocked, although Rose had to deny Exeter sub Arron Davies on the break. On came Kal Naismith and although his corner found Atkinson, the centre-half skewed his header wide.

It was clear a stoppage-time corner would be the Reds’ last chance. Naismith played it short and received a return pass, only to hit an ambitious ball well wide of the far post.

Stanley: Rose 7, Winnard 6, Aldred 7, Atkinson 7, Liddle 6, O’Sullivan 8, Procter 6, Joyce 6, Mingoia 6 (Naismith 84), Maguire 8, Crooks 6 (McCartan 61, 7). Subs: Barry, Carver, Gray, Hunt, Simpson. Attendance: 1,443 (158 away).