After last weekend’s crucial away victory over Chesterfield, hopes were high around St James’ Park that the Grecians could build on their success as they welcomed a Hartlepool side who had lost six out of their last eight games.
Both sides lined up with a 4-3-3 formation:
Exeter: Krysiak; Tully, Duffy, Archibald-Henville, Golbourne; Sercombe, Noble, Dunne; Bauza, Logan, Nardiello.
Hartlepool: Flinders; Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood; Baldwin, Murray, Liddle; Brown, James, Sweeney.
The game started at a slow pace with neither side keeping possession particularly well, as long balls were the most common sight. It was the visitors who looked the most threatening with James Brown beating Steve Tully in the air with worrying ease and young forward Luke James having a good aerial battle with Troy Archibald-Henville, but there were no clear cut chances for either side in the first quarter of an hour.
The home side’s tactics were disrupted after sixteen minutes when Liam Sercombe was injured and had to be replaced by Jake Taylor. The Grecians converted to a 4-4-2 with Taylor and Nardiello on the wings, which seemed to be a waste of Nardiello’s talents, as Exeter’s top scorer continued his lengthy goalless streak by having to spend most of the game tracking back to inside his own half to stop the attacking full-back Neil Austin, and Richard Logan was an isolated figure up front.
After twenty minutes, the ball was in the net, but Gary Liddle saw his effort ruled out for offside, which was a let-off for the homeside but one that failed to kick them into action, as despite appeals for a penalty after Nardiello was bundled over the half continued without much incident until stoppage time, when City put together their best move of the match, but midfielder James Dunne could only shoot weakly straight at Scott Flinders in the Hartlepool goal.
Hopes that the second half would be an improvement were not founded as chances continued to be few and far between. Exeter withdrew Richard Logan for John O’Flynn (whose new bleach blonde hair was perhaps the main talking point of a forgettable afternoon) as they tried to find a winner. Again it was the away side who seemed the more likely to claim one as Sweeney was played through on goal by James but was denied by a good save by Artur Krysiak.
After this point, Exeter did start building some pressure on their opponents’ goal, but the crosses from the wings were not good enough and despite having the majority of possession, the closest they came to breaking the deadlock was when Guillem Bauza’s deflected shot from the edge of the area landed on top of the net with Flinders stranded. A final substitution for Exeter was a puzzling one, as Bauza was taken off for centre half Danny Coles, perhaps due to Coles’ aerial strength and City having a late free-kick in a dangerous position, but the set piece came to nothing and the final whistle was met with a lack of reaction from fans and players alike.
Exeter are now just two points above the drop zone as they prepare to face Oldham, whilst Hartlepool remain in mid-table mediocrity, and a special mention to the 85 ‘Monkey Hangers’ fans who travelled the length of the country to witness a match that definitely won’t live long in the memory.