Just three days after a desperately disappointing defeat at Burton Albion, Exeter City returned to winning ways in style with a superb 2-0 win at second-placed Port vale last night.
First-half goals from Jamie Cureton, his 19th of the season, and captain Danny Coles did the damage for Exeter, who overcame the 77th minute dismissal of Mark Molesley to hold on for a richly deserved victory.
The Grecians made two changes to the side that crashed to defeat at Burton Albion. Artur Krysiak was deemed fit and able to resume his place between the sticks, while Matt Oakley came in for Jimmy Keohane. His absence from the substitutes' bench suggested he was injured.
Port Vale included former Exeter defender Richard Duffy at right-back, while League Two's top scorer Tom Pope started in attack alongside Calvin Andrew, who scored the Valiants' only goal in the 1-0 win at Torquay last Saturday.
Exeter, with Cureton playing as a lone striker, were soon under the cosh and Vale's Daniel Jones headed tamely into the arms of Krysiak with the game's first chance. The Grecians responded with an Arron Davies long-ranger, which deflected behind for a corner, but despite three in quick succession from City, they ultimately came to nothing.
The first ten minutes were good for the Grecians though, and they got even better on 11 minutes. Molesley and Oakley did well to capitalise on John McCombe's poor clearance on the right and after biding their time and creating the angle, Oakley delivered a superb cross, which Cureton connected with to head City in front.
The ball took a deflection before passing Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal, but the ball looked to be going in regardless.
Doug Loft's 30-yard shot clipped the heels of an Exeter defender and flew narrowly wide of the upright before Molesley and Jones were booked after a bout of handbags, which came about after Molesley had felled the young full-back. It would later prove costly for the Exeter man.
The Grecians found attacking forays were few and far between, but when they did go forward, they looked threatening. Oakley was at the heart of most things and after a neat one-two with Cureton, he fed the ball wide to Molesley, who in turn fed Tom Doherty, but his shot screwed wide of the near post.
Scot Bennett then won his side a free-kick on the right touchline with a fine bit of skill, but he was cynically brought down. Oakley's free-kick caused havoc inside the box with Molesley forcing a superb save from Neal, but Coles was on hand to bundle home the loose ball to make it 2-0.
The home side were certainly rattled and began to lose their composure. Loft escaped with just a yellow card for a crude lunge on Molesley, who seemed like something of a marked man.
Jennison Myrie-Williams' low crossed fizzed across the face of goal as the home side built up a head of steam just before half-time and Loft saw an 18-yard half volley deflect wide. However, the Grecians were defending so well and were good value for their half-time lead with another performance of devastating counter-attacking play.
Rob Taylor and Louis Dodds were introduced by Vale boss Micky Adams at the break, but it was Exeter that started the better of the two sides with Oakley firing well wide after a short corner.
Pope was off target with a header from Loft's cross, but when their attacks broke down, Exeter countered well. Molesley forced Neal into a smart stop after a brilliant run from midfield, while Cureton could have done better after being found by Oakley.
With an hour gone, Exeter were still looking good value, so Adams brought on Hughes in place of McCombe. It was certainly a signal of the Valiants' intent by replacing a centre half for a striker and his first involvement was to rattle a volley narrowly wide of Krysiak's upright.
Exeter were having a few sniffs on the counter and Cureton curled a shot agonisingly wide from 18 yards after being found once again by the outstanding Oakley. However, the Grecians were reduced to ten men 13 minutes from time when Moseley was sent off for another off-the-ball incident. It was hard to see exactly what he had done, but it seemed he was given a straight red card.
That led to John O'Flynn coming on for Cureton, who almost netted his second goal seconds before going off, but he tried to set up Oakley and the chance went begging.
It was backs against the wall stuff for Exeter as the game entered the closing stages, but they defended as though their lives depended on it and threw themselves in the way of everything.
Pope thudded a shot against the base of the post and the ball hit the head of Krysiak before the Pole gathered the loose ball, but that was as close as the home side came despite an additional five minutes of injury time.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Neal; Duffy, McCombe, Purse, Jones; Myrie-Williams, Burge, Loft, Vincent (Taylor h-t); Pope, Andrew (Dodds h-t). Substitutes (not used): Yates, Shuker, Morsy, Birchall, Hughes.
Booking: Jones, Loft
Exeter City (4-5-1): Krysiak; Amankwaah, Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Molesley, Oakley, Bennett, Doherty, Davies; Cureton. Substitutes (not used): Evans (gk), Tully, O'Flynn, Bauza, Dawson, Gosling, Moore-Taylor.
Goals: Cureton 11, Coles 33
Bookings: Molesley, Bennett
Referee: G Sutton (Lincolnshire)