Howe pen 15
Gow pen 85
A TALE of two penalties had United once again drowning in late sorrow after a turgid Devon derby at Plainmoor.
The visit of Exeter to TQ1 has long been anticipated but the reality was a poor match that the Gulls looked like sneaking when Rene Howe slotted a fine penalty on 15 minutes.
Neither side found rhythm on a pitch battered by the recent weather but Exeter slowly piled on the pressure, and were rewarded when substitute Alan Gow converted a confident equaliser after a foul by Joe Oastler in the box five minutes from time.
United manager Martin Ling made just one change from the side defeated by Burton on Saturday, restoring Billy Bodin to the starting line-up after an ankle problem at the expense of Danny Stevens.
Exeter boss Paul Tisdale was far more ruthless in his selection, introducing three new faces from the weekend win over Southend, with Guillem Bauza, Tommy Doherty and Kevin Amankwaah coming in for Matt Oakley, Gow and Jimmy Keohane.
The Grecian changes perhaps reflected another difficult playing surface at Plainmoor, with the visiting manager seemingly exchanging guile with graft in his midfield, although one new face, Bauza, did attempt a cheeky shot on two minutes that was dragged wide of Michael Poke’s far post.
United’s first meaningful attack stemmed from a burst down the left by Lee Mansell. The ball eventually found a way to Oastler on the opposite flank, who delivered for Ryan Jarvis to glance a header narrowly wide.
Mansell was again involved moments later, picking up the loose ball from a Bodin backheel to rifle a shot goalwards that visiting ‘keeper Artur Krysiak was grateful to see deflected inches over his bar.
Tisdale’s plans were thrown awry after less than 10 minutes, when Irish striker John O’Flynn, scorer of a brace against Southend, was forced out of the action with an injury and replaced by Keohane.
The Gulls then put together a sumptuous passing move that had Exeter floundering. Jarvis and Bodin combined initially to release Craig on the right, and his cross looked perfect for Howe but the big man was impeded by a handball from Doherty when jumping for the header.
Referee Craig Pawson had absolutely no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Howe was the coolest man inside TQ1, strolling up to plant a terrific penalty in the top corner, leaving Krysiak crumpled in a beaten heap.
Exeter were suddenly under real pressure and a whipped free-kick from Craig had Krysiak backpedalling furiously to tip over his own bar. The subsequent corner was met by a looping header from Brian Saah and Pawson spared the visitors a goalmouth scramble by spotting an infringement.
After a period of calm for both sides, a long ball from Saah found Howe the wrong side of his man and he used all his strength to tee up Craig for a cross to the back post, where Bodin was unable to generate enough power to trouble Krysiak.
The Grecians immediately responded with their best attack of the evening to that point, with Bauza surging through the middle to feed Keohane for a low shot that fizzed inches beyond the far post.
Another lull was interrupted by a fabulous cross from the left boot of Kevin Nicholson that Krysiak could only claw away from the head of a busy Jarvis, but the loose ball was steered well over by Craig.
Chances dried up for the remainder of the first period, as United happily competed in all the important areas and kept the visitors from up the road at arm’s length. For Exeter, the half-time chat would be a good deal feistier than that in the Yellow dressing room.
The major outcome from Tisdale’s team-talk was the removal of Bauza for the silky skills of Gow and the new man was immediately involved with a driven low cross that was hacked clear by the outstanding Aaron Downes.
United’s response was another decent cross dug out by Nicholson and Howe produced a scooped left-volley that Krysiak again could only tip over, but the corner proved wasteful. Exeter then made their final substitution on 56 minutes, removing Arron Davies for the vast experience of Oakley.
A flash of brilliance from the new man was his introduction to the evening, flicking beautifully inside for Gow, who curled a low shot inches past the post in a stark warning to the Yellows that victory was still a long way off.
United had gone worryingly deep with their defensive line and the game needed a lift. The bench answer was the raw pace of Niall Thompson for the tiring legs of Jarvis in a move that allowed Craig to move his passing skills into a central area.
A spell of frustrating disjointed passing from the Gulls merely served to give the Grecians hope of an equaliser and more nifty footwork from Gow created space for Keohane to attempt an audacious flick that forced Poke into a marvellous save to turn the ball wide.
Ling again turned to his replacements for a boost, withdrawing Bodin for Stevens but while United continued to struggle in possession, huge credit had to go the way of Mansell, who was typically tenacious in every tackle.
As the game entered its closing stages, trepidation filled Yellow hearts and those fears were realised when a clumsy challenge from Oastler had Gow tumbling in the box, and Pawson had little option.
United protests were waved away as Gow stepped up with similar assurance to Howe and struck a super spot-kick in the same top corner as his opposing striker. Painful though it was to concede, the goal was probably what Exeter deserved for a purposeful second-half display.
The bragging rights from this latest round of Devon derbies will have to wait, although not for long, as the Gulls travel to St James Park a week on Monday for a televised clash.
Let’s hope the watching nation is treated to a better game.
Gulls (4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 20 Nathan Craig, 6 Damon Lathrope, 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 15 Billy Bodin (19 Danny Stevens 78); 8 Ryan Jarvis (29 Niall Thompson 63), 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 18 Craig Easton, 21 Thomas Cruise, 23 Ashley Yeoman.
Booked: Saah 83
Exeter (4-4-2): 1 Artur Krysiak; 2 Steve Tully, 5 Pat Baldwin, 6 Danny Coles (capt), 3 Craig Woodman; 14 Tommy Doherty, 4 Scott Bennett, 16 Kevin Amankwaah, 11 Arron Davies (8 Matt Oakley 56); 19 John O’Flynn (22 Jimmy Keohane 9), 21 Guillem Bauza (10 Alan Gow H-T). Substitutes (not used): 24 Rhys Evans (GK), 27 Myles Anderson, 35 Jamie Reed, 37 Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Booked: Bennett 14, Tully 78
Referee: Craig Pawson
Attendance: 4,476 (1,443 away).