Tom Nichols marked his return to the Exeter City first team with a brilliant brace as the Grecians ended a two-month wait for a win with a thrilling 3-2 success at Accrington Stanley.
All of Exeter’s goals came in the first 24 minutes as Nichols lobbed a superb first before rifling in the second. Alan Gow made it 3-0, but the home side launched a rousing comeback with goals from Peter Murphy and Kai Naismith. However, City held firm to pick up their first three-point maximum in nine games.
The Grecians had five players in their starting XI that had graduated from the youth ranks. Scot Bennett, handed the captain’s armband in Danny Coles’ absence was partnered by Jordan Moore-Taylor, Liam Sercombe and Matt Grimes started in midfield and Nichols in attack after several impressive performances for the reserves and Under-21s. Christy Pym and Jake Gosling on the substitutes’ bench took the number in the matchday squad up to seven.
The only incident of a cagey opening four minutes came when Dean Winnard was booked for a crude tackle on Alan Gow. Two minutes later though, City were in front.
Nichols reacted quickly to a long ball over the top by Craig Woodman and with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli rushing from his line, he lobbed a superb shot from 25 yards over the ‘keeper’s head and into the net.
Things got even better for Exeter on 11 minutes. A neat passing move led to the ball being played by Sercombe into the feet of Gow and his clever flick sent Nichols clear. The youngster showed what a great finisher he is with a firm low shot that went past Bettinelli and into the net.
Naismith saw an ambitious shot deflect wide before Tom Aldred made a crucial block to deny Sercombe. At the other end, Danny Webber robbed Moore-Taylor of the ball, but shot early and straight at Krysiak, when he really should have done better.
However, the Grecians looked so deadly going forward and Gow made it 3-0 on 24 minutes. The Scot received the ball with his back to goal on the corner of the penalty box and turned and hit a first time shot that caught out Bettinelli at his near post and crept inside the upright.
Lee Naylor skied high for Accrington after a short-corner routine and Sercombe was also off target for the Grecians.
However, Accrington found a route back into the game on 38 minutes when Davies lost possession and Stanley countered through Naismith. He crossed for Murphy to head past Krysiak from 12 yards and Naismith then dragged a shot wide of his near post as the home side gained confidence.
However, it was a great half for the Grecians and the last thing they needed was to concede early in the second. That’s exactly what happened. Less than five minutes had been played when Naylor delivered a superb cross that Naismith got his head on and he sent another header past Krysiak and into the net.
However, City had a chance to further their lead on 55 minutes when Nichols nipped in front of Naylor and won his side a penalty. Gow took it, but Bettinelli guessed correctly by diving to his left and keeping the all at bay.
It was Gow’s last act as he was replaced by Jimmy Keohane just before the hour mark, but City were now facing a Stanley storm. The swirling wind and driving rain merely added to the occasion with the game poised for a thrilling finale.
Danny Butterfield twice came to Exeter’s rescue with last ditch headers at the back post, but Krysiak bettered that with a stunning double save. Webber played in Gray, but his shot was parried straight to Naylor by the Pole, who was off his feet quickly to then thwart Naylor an almost certain goal.
Winnard headed over from another superb Naylor free kick – the left-back’s delivery a notable aspect of the game all afternoon – while Moore-Taylor should have done better with a headed chance for Exeter, but he didn’t get decent contact on Butterfield’s free kick.
The outstanding Nichols, shattered after a shift and a half for his side, made way for Sam Parkin seven minutes from time, but Accrington were also running out of steam.
Shay McCartan dragged a shot wide moments after coming on as a substitute for Stanley, while Woodman wasted a free kick opportunity with a horrendously over-hit delivery from the touch line.
Four minutes were added on for stoppage time and Stanley won a corner, but Naylor found the wrong time to deliver his worst ball yet as it went straight out of play. After that, City saw out time well to claim a much needed – and hugely entertaining - victory.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Hunt, Aldred, Winnard, Naylor; Naismith, Murphy, Joyce, Mingoia; Gray (Bowerman 78), Webber (McCartan 85). Substitutes (not used): Liddle, Richardson, Hatfield, Wilson, Windass.
Goals: Murphy 38, Naismith 50
Bookings: Winnard, Aldred
Exeter City (4-3-3): Krysiak; Butterfield, Bennett, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; Sercombe, Gill, Grimes (Wheeler 53); Davies, Nichols (Parkin 83), Gow (Keohane 58). Substitutes (not used): Pym (gk), Baldwin, O’Flynn.
Goals: Nichols 6, 11, Gow 24
Referee: E Ilderton.