Exeter City fail to read script as Colchester United are defeated for first time at home
Colchester United snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and squandered their 100% home record, after a 3-2 reverse against struggling Exeter City, at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, on Saturday.
Well, that wasn’t in the script.
U’s fans probably thought there was a good chance that the post-game reports would feature the heroic efforts of a Reading loanee, with Tarique Fosu poised to make his debut against an Exeter team missing eight first-team players.
However, it was another debutant, Fosu’s Reading team-mate, Jack Stacey, who stole the show – the young loan star creating the winning goal and being a constant threat as Exeter City came from 2-1 down to head back to the West Country with a valuable three points.
The U’s had a late ‘goal’ ruled out for offside, Kurtis Guthrie the guilty party as Denny Johnstone slid home from close-range, and then piled on the pressure, only to see the visitors hold out courtesy of some excellent last-ditch defending.
After making five changes for the midweek defeat at Crawley in the EFL Trophy, U’s boss John McGreal reverted to the line-up that marched to an impressive 2-0 victory at Wycombe Wanderers seven days earlier.
The U’s began in positive fashion, stroking the ball about well, but they soon realised that Exeter had come to play football too and, playing five in midfield when defending, the Grecians soon began to overrun the home team in the engine room.
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It was still something of a shock when they went ahead though in the eighth minute – the visitors scoring with their first real attack of the game.
It was instigated by former Colchester man Lloyd James who whipped in a right-wing diagonal ball to the back post. There, Jordan Taylor-Moore rose highest and planted a header against the far post.
The ball rebounded out kindly to Simpson who, showing razor-sharp instincts, gobbled up the rebound.
Simpson turned from hero to villain just two minutes later however, the ex-Cambridge and Coventry man clearing the bar from six yards after Stacey had broken into the 18-yard box and played the ball across to his team-mate.
Colchester’s defending in the first 10 minutes had left a lot to be desired, but it was matched by Exeter on 13 minutes as the U’s equalised.
A set-piece swung in from the left was headed across the box by Luke Prosser, but looked set to be cleared by Exeter’s Ryan Harley.
However, the midfielder headed the ball straight into the path of Sammie Szmodics, who took a touch before a rifling a volley into Bobby Olejnik’s right-hand corner.
Exeter showed what can happen when you combine bad defending with profligate finishing and that should have given the U’s the morale-boost they needed.
The visitors’ heads didn’t drop though and it was the Devon side that fashioned the next chance, Jake Taylor forcing a good save from Sam Walker after Ollie Watkins had produced a powerful left-wing run and impressive cut back.
Watkins and Stacey were enjoying plenty of freedom down the flanks, but it was one of the U’s widemen, Drey Wright that created the next chance, getting to the byline and crossing to the near post where the diving Chris Porter nodded the ball wide.
The home side had started with Guthrie and Porter in attack but to combat Exeter’s extra bodies in midfield, the former dropped into a deeper role and began dictating play at both ends.
The ex-Forest Green man made a couple of crucial defensive challenges that got the crowd on their feet – one that denied Pierce Sweeney a certain goal – and in between that, put the U’s 2-1.
Brennan Dickenson lofted in a left-wing corner and Guthrie, back-pedalling, managed to loop a header over Olejnik and Harley on the line – the ball nestling into the back of the net.
The hosts had suddenly built up a head of steam and Richard Brindley charged into the box and fired a powerful ball that hit Szmodics six yards out and went out for a goalkick.
Szmodics was back in the thick of it early in the second period, bursting into the box and dragging a shot wide of the far post. At that point, the U’s looked well set to launch a second half onslaught.
But it wasn’t to be, and six minutes after the break, Exeter were level.
Jake Taylor found space in centre field before spraying the ball out wide to Watkins. There, the winger cut inside from the right and hit an accurate left foot shot into the far corner from 16 yards, the U’s defence backing off him and giving him far too much space.
The U’s hit a lull after conceding and needed a spark to lift the crowd.
Manager John McGreal turned to Fosu, who arrived from Reading on Wednesday, and he replaced Wright on the hour.
Exeter also made a significant change, striker Joel Grant replacing 15-year-old centre-back Ethan Ampadu – a move that saw a reshuffle and Stacey drop back into a more defensive position, Sweeney moving into the heart of the defence.
Fosu almost made an immediate impact, his pass fizzing across goal without any of his team-mates being able to get a touch on the ball.
Fosu missed out on becoming an instant hero but Grant certainly didn’t, the forward scoring with virtually his first touch, tapping in at the back post after Stacey’s run down the wing ended in him delivering a terrific ball across the box.
Another debutant, Exeter’s Luke Croll, on-loan from Crystal Palace, then nodded over as Paul Tisdale’s men looked to put the game to bed.
Again, they were nearly made to pay, but Olejnik made a smart save at the near post to tip over Fosu’s shot.
The keeper frustrated the U’s again moments later, this time palming Luke Prosser’s header over.
Johnstone then finished from close-range as the U’s looked to have levelled late on but while he was onside, replays showed that Guthrie, stood in line with Olejnik, wasn’t.
It was a decision that did not go down well with the home fans and players, who were then left to rue some superb last-ditch defending and the woodwork, as Szmodics struck the outside of the post, from close range, in injury-time.