Exeter City 3, Wycombe Wanderers 2.
WANDERERS twice threw away the lead as they were beaten for the fourth time in six games.
They didn’t build on the early lead given to them by player-coach Gareth Ainsworth, then switched off moments after Dean Morgan had put them back in front in the second half.
Blues’ much-changed line-up looked far better going forward than they have done in recent weeks and the old frailties at the back remain.
What proved to be the winning goal from Danny Coles – an excellently executed backheel – came after Wanderers again failed to defend a corner, and Blues had also fallen asleep at the back a mere two minutes after Morgan had scored their second goal.
It was a vast improvement on recent weeks as Wycombe showed an improved attitude demanded by manager Gary Waddock, who rung the changes as promised.
He made no fewer than five, with Elliot Parish debuting between the sticks after joining on loan from Cardiff, Ainsworth and Danny Foster making their first appearances of the season and Dave Winfield and former Grecian Richard Logan being recalled.
The changes had the desired effect as Blues got off to a dream start, going in front with just four minutes on the clock. Joel Grant took full advantage of veteran Matt Oakley’s slip in midfield to wriggle clear and find Ainsworth, and the winger’s shot took a wicked deflection off former Wanderer Craig Woodman and crept past an already committed Artur Krysiak.
Wycombe had the bit between their teeth after that and the lively Grant carried on from where he left off against Chesterfield, having a header cleared off the line by Coles after looping it over the Exeter keeper.
But the Grecians came into the game on an excellent run of form and almost drew level when Parish’s weak punch dropped to Oakley, with the former Leicester man seeing his dinked shot cleared off the line by a combination of Winfield and Gary Doherty.
The debutant keeper, signed earlier in the day from Cardiff on an emergency loan, looked more assured when he confidently plucked Jimmy Keohane’s fizzing volley out of the air after the midfielder seized on Doherty’s header.
The home side had the ball in the net shortly afterwards but Jamie Cureton – the only recognised striker Exeter were able to field after a spate of injuries – was foiled by a linesman’s flag.
Wycombe overcame that spell of pressure and could have extended their lead when Grant latched onto Dean Morgan’s intelligent pass but slipped his shot just the wrong side of the post.
Not for the first time this season they were punished for not taking their chances as the home side drew level. Keohane’s incisive pass picked out Arron Davies, who cut inside Foster before firing across Parish and into the bottom corner via a slight deflection.
That wasn’t the signal for an onslaught by the Grecians, who were limited to a pair of long range efforts from Cureton that were way off target as committed Wycombe defending kept them at bay.
Parish was called into action early in the second half, turning Keohane’s near post effort out, before Wanderers repeated their first half trick with an early goal. Grant was again in the thick of things as he ghosted past two men down the left before placing his cross directly onto Morgan’s forehead, and he had a simple task in heading in his first Blues goal.
It proved a short-lived lead as Exeter equalised barely two minutes later.
Poor defending played a part as Wanderers failed to clear their lines but there was nothing poor about Cureton’s finish, as the veteran turned superbly before thumping past a helpless Parish from ten yards.
Morgan had a close range effort superbly blocked before a familiar foe – a corner – proved their undoing once again. Awarded after Scot Bennett’s shot went behind off a defender, Blues left Keohane unattended and he headed Woodman’s delivery into the danger area.
There appeared to be little on as the ball dropped to Coles with the central defender facing away from goal, but he improvised superbly and backheeled the ball into the net to put Exeter into the lead.
Jo Kuffour was thrown on from the bench but it was full-back Matt Parsons who came closest to leveling when his rising near post drive was batted away by Krysiak.
Matt Spring then fired wide from distance before Lee Angol and Olly Taylor were also introduced as Blues went looking for an equaliser.
It proved a fruitless one, as a stretching Logan was just unable to get onto the end of Angol’s flick from a free-kick deep into stoppage time.
Wanderers: Parish, Foster, Winfield, Doherty, Parsons, Ainsworth (sub Kuffour), Lewis, Spring, Grant (sub Angol), Logan, Morgan (sub Taylor). Substitutes not used: Basey, Dunne, Thompson, Kewley-Graham.
Attendance: 3,365 (84 from Wycombe)