at St James' Park
Exeter City's dismal home form continued as they crashed to a wretched 3-1 home defeat to struggling Oxford United at St James' Park.
Jamie Cureton's 16th goal of the campaign was all Exeter had to show for their efforts as Oxford won all too easily. The U's cruised into a 3-0 lead and – other than a half decent start – it was only after manager Paul Tisdale's triple substitution just before the hour mark that the Grecians actually looked like doing something. But the boos that greeted the full-time whistle showed just how dissatisfied the home faithful are with things right now.
The Grecians went into the game naming the same side that started the 1-1 Devon derby draw with Plymouth Argyle.
Oxford created the first opportunity when Danny Coles fouled Alfie Potter on the touchline. Peter Leven picked out Liam Davis, who was completely unmarked at the back post, but he headed wastefully wide of goal.
The Grecians responded with John O'Flynn winning possession in a dangerous area and he laid the ball off to Alan Gow. The Scotsman looked to break into the penalty box, but was brought crashing to the ground. From the resulting free kick, Cureton's powerful effort was palmed to safety by Ryan Clarke.
The Grecians kept the pressure on and from Matt Oakley's clever pull back, Cureton leathered a well struck volley goalwards, but the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
Steve Tully failed to turn in from close range after a quick free kick by O'Flynn and as the ball came back to Gow, his side-footed effort was well blocked by the Oxford defence.
It was a decent start from City though, who were shooting towards the Big Bank in the first half. But despite having nearly all of the ball, Exeter were undone in simple fashion on 18 minutes.
Sercombe was slow to get out and challenge for a ball in midfield, which was lobbed forward by Tom Craddock. James Constable reacted quickest to shrug off his man and lash the ball past a static Artur Krysiak from 12 yards.
The goal seemed to knock City off their strike and they were lucky not to fall 2-0 behind after a brilliant run down the left by Sean Rigg. His cross found Craddock unmarked and he skied high from six yards.
The Grecians' defence looked panicked and Constable turned and shot goalwards only for the ball to take a slight deflection and go narrowly past the far post. City were lucky to still be in the game.
Gow's corner was headed over by Coles, but the Grecians were being frustrated by Oxford's continuous time wasting. Shortly before half-time, a Gow free kick fizzed across the face of goal with Pat Baldwin, Coles and Cureton all failing to get the decisive touch.
That pretty much summed up the frustration felt inside St James' Park. Some of Exeter's play had been good, but they lacked that clinical edge. One criticism of the Grecians, lining up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, was their obvious lack of width with the wing-backs not offering enough support when Exeter ventured forward.
It was no surprise to see Paul Tisdale change things for the second half and revert to a conventional 4-4-2. The shift saw Sercombe and O'Flynn pushed out to the wings, Tully and Woodman drop to full-back and Scot Bennett moved into midfield.
However, things went from bad to worse for Exeter shortly after the break when Baldwin's header across his own penalty box went straight to Constable and he was left with a simple finish past Krysiak from 18 yards.
The Grecians looked a shambles and Oxford soon made it 3-0. More poor defending led to the ball being cleared as far as Leven and he fired a low shot into the far corner from 18 yards.
With nothing to lose, Tisdale went for broke. O'Flynn, Sercombe and Gow were hauled off with Jimmy Keohane, Kevin Amankwaah and Jake Reid all coming on.
For Reid, it was his first team debut, but when he ran onto the field, a clearly unhappy Gow was seen storming down the tunnel.
The youngster's first contribution was to see a low shot across the face of goal saved by Clarke and a second from distance was also saved by Clarke.
The Grecians were then awarded a penalty for a handball by Damian Batt and Cureton sent Clarke the wrong way from 12 yards and with a quarter of the game remaining, it should have been game on.
The substitutes had brought a vibrancy to an Exeter side which has been lacking not just yesterday, but in recent weeks. Especially on home soil.
Unfortunately, Exeter did not muster a rousing finale as they wilted. Reid again tried his luck from distance, but his shot deflected into the arms of Clarke as time slowly ebbed away.
Oxford continued to look threatening on the counter-attack, but were happy to sit in and see out time.