If Saturday’s trip to Oxford United was to be a test of Exeter City’s promotion credentials, then they passed it with flying colours.
The home side were tipped as one of the npower League Two pre-season promotion favourites by the so-called experts, who also tipped City to be among the also-rans this year. But a devastating performance saw the Grecians come away with a stunning 4-2 victory which further enhances their own claims that they have what it takes to do well this year.
Oxford played some nice stuff, but lacked a cutting edge. Their play often broke down in and around the penalty box and, with men committed forward, a well-organised City counter-attacked with decisive results.
Jamie Cureton was the first beneficiary with the most unlikely of Cureton goals. He picked up the ball inside his own half after Scot Bennett had won possession, and ran at the heart of the Oxford defence. Liam Sercombe’s superb 70-yard surging run to his right took a defender wide and created the space and, when Cureton found himself 20 yards from goal, he drilled a fine shot into the top corner.
Bennett made it 2-0 when he met Sercombe’s delicious corner kick with a bullet header that gave Ryan Clarke no chance, and at half-time City really were in dream land.
Cureton made it 3-0 with another fine goal five minutes into the second half. The outstanding John O’Flynn found him with a lovely lay-off and Cureton left his marker for dead with a brilliant turn. That took the veteran striker in on goal, but he still had plenty to do with the angle not in his favour. But Cureton kept going and lifted the ball over Clarke, who got a touch, but could do little to stop the ball from finding the far corner.
The celebrations that followed suggested Exeter thought the job was done. Far from it. Craig Woodman was adjudged to have fouled Damian Batt inside the penalty box and Jake Forster-Caskey sent Artur Krysiak the wrong way from 12 yards.
Then Krysiak failed to deal with a deep cross into the Exeter area and, with the Pole stranded, the ball was played into the six-yard box, where Alfie Potter finished from close range.
That really lifted the home fans and it was all Oxford at this point. Cureton was replaced after feeling his hamstring and Exeter missed his presence. Deane Smalley spurned a great chance to level it up at 3-3 when he headed over the bar, but with Exeter seemingly on the ropes, they responded once again.
Sercombe’s pass was aimed at O’Flynn and the Irishman got the better of his marker before bearing down on goal and drilling another fine shot across goal and into the far corner.
It was no more than he deserved for a fantastic, selfless and whole-hearted performance. The former Barnet man was only playing because of an injury to Alan Gow, and he more than took his chance.
That goal knocked the stuffing out of Oxford, who had substitute James Constable sent off for a second yellow card just eight minutes after he entered the fray.
To their credit, Oxford never gave up but, with their players wilting in the sun, City looked to pick them off. They had several chances to increase their lead, but failed to take them. Not that it mattered, because the damage had well and truly been done by then.