Exeter late show against Blackpool keeps play-off bid alive
Substitutes Reuben Reid and Ollie Watkins rescued a dramatic late point for Exeter City as they came from two goals down to maintain their promotion push at home to Blackpool.
The visitors were aiming to climb away from the bottom half of the table and had raced into a 2-0 first-half lead. But injury-time goals in each half from Watkins and Reid sealed a spirited City comeback.
The in-form Watkins had started on the bench due to illness, with Exeter manager Paul Tisdale opting to start with Robbie Simpson in his place.
However Tisdale’s plans for squad rotation were in disarray as early as the fifth minute, when Simpson suffered what was suspected to be a season-ending broken ankle.
Stretching to get a touch on a low cross, Simpson could not connect and, after the ball had evaded everyone, it became obvious to all inside St James Park that the striker had suffered serious damage.
After a lengthy stoppage for him to receive treatment, play continued with Simpson’s replacement Watkins showing no signs of the bug that had initially kept him out.
If Exeter were rocked by the early disruption to their plans, it buoyed the visitors who proceeded to pen the Grecians inside their own half for much of the first 45 minutes.
The Tangerines were aggressive in regaining possession, personified perfectly by the front-foot defending of captain Andy Taylor.
Blackpool’s physical dominance paid dividends as goals from Colin Daniel and Brad Potts put them two up, although home keeper Christy Pym, returning to the side after injury, should have done more to prevent both.
The first came after Pym parried a shot into the path of Daniel for the midfielder to blast into the roof of the net from close range. Shortly before half-time, the former England U20s keeper came to claim a high ball inside the 18-yard box, but was blocked by the mass of bodies in front of him, allowing the ball to drop to the feet of Potts, who finished neatly to give Gary Bowyer’s team hope of a valuable away win.
These were the kind of blunders that had been all but eradicated from Exeter’s performances since the start of their 12-game unbeaten run at the end of November, a turnaround which has propelled them into the play-off mix.
With the experienced Bobby Olejnik waiting in the wings as his replacement, Pym will be keen to avoid a repeat of such mistakes in the end of season run-in, but fortunately for him, Exeter recovered from this double early blow to spare his blushes.
Their comeback began in first-half stoppage time, as Blackpool keeper Sam Slocombe could only parry on-loan defender Jack Stacey’s cross from the byline, and Watkins was on hand to slam in his 12th of the season.
This livened up both Exeter’s players and fans, and once the second half began, the flow of the game changed in the hosts’ favour and it looked as though it would be a matter of when, not if, they would draw level.
Shortly before the hour mark, Tisdale introduced fan-favourite Reid in place of Liam McAlinden, and the former Plymouth player made a big impact in the final period of the match, impressing as an individual and raising the standard of the team as a whole.
Alarm bells should have been ringing in the Blackpool defence when, with 10 minutes remaining, Reid beat the deepest Blackpool defender to meet a perfectly weighted pass, but somehow Slocombe denied him a goal with a miraculous double save.
The visitors were now dug in deep inside their own half, with a counter-attack their only chance of landing a meaningful blow of their own.
But in the 92nd minute, Exeter’s pressure finally paid off as Watkins’ in-swinging cross from the left was headed in at the back post by Reid for his eighth goal of the season.
The point keeps the Grecians in sixth place, whilst Blackpool stay down in 15th.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/310343905″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Feature image: Reuben Reid heads home in stoppage time to rescue a point for Exeter City. Courtesy of @OfficialECFC & @ppauk (Pinnacle Photo Agency).