Battling Exeter City have to settle for draw as Aldershot prove too tough to break down
Some games do not live long in the memory, and Exeter City's home stalemate against Aldershot Town on Saturday will be one of them.
The Grecians, going into the match off the back of a 1-0 loss to Torquay United, needed the points not only to maintain their promotion push, but to appease a home crowd clearly unhappy after last Monday's desperately disappointing Devon derby defeat.
Instead, they played out a mundane goalless draw against a Shots side happy to defend for long spells and ultimately happier with a point than the home side.
Ultimately, though, if City are to challenge at the top of npower League Two, this was yet another missed opportunity on home soil.
In back-to-back home games, they have failed to score a goal and have picked up one point against two sides in the bottom third of the table. The most concerning thing, though, was that, in 180 minutes of football, they have created only a handful of goal scoring chances.
On Monday, City manager Paul Tisdale came in for criticism from all quarters for a negative team selection, which saw no recognised striker in the starting XI. He left 16-goal top scorer Jamie Cureton on the bench for an hour of the game and, when he came on, Exeter looked far more potent. But it was too little too late as the Grecians failed to overturn that 1-0 deficit.
On Saturday, Cureton started along with Alan Gow and Guillem Bauza, but, despite a far better presence in the final third, chances were about as rare as a home wins are this season. To be fair to Exeter, they fought hard, and defensively they were superb, but as an attacking force they barely looked like scoring. Since the turn of the year, City have conceded only once from open play, and that is no bad place from which to build a team.
There was one change to that back-line on Saturday with Kevin Amankwaah preferred to Steve Tully, who Tisdale publicly blamed for conceding the decisive penalty which ultimately led to that derby defeat to the Gulls.
Amankwaah played well and posed a threat going forward, but it was equally harsh on Tully who, the Torquay game aside, has thrived for City this season.
On the other flank, Craig Woodman just gets better and better, while the centre-back pairing of Danny Coles and Pat Baldwin are as good as anything in League Two.
On Saturday, they dealt with everything Aldershot threw at them, especially in the second half when the Shots barely had an effort on the Grecians' goal. But then, Exeter did not threaten much, either.
Cureton was full of running and Exeter's best chances fell his way, none more so than in the first half when he was played in on goal, but he never really got the ball out from under his feet. It all ended with Cureton trying to lob Jamie Young from the edge of the penalty box, but the ball went straight into the arms of the Aldershot goalkeeper.
A hooked volley in the second half also ended up in the arms of Young, but Cureton's mere presence on the field has an effect. He is the type of player who will do nothing for 89 minutes, yet pop up with a goal. However, there is the argument that when Cureton is not scoring, then he does not bring much else to the team, hence Tisdale's reasoning for starting with the hard-working John O'Flynn ahead of Cureton when the Irishman is fit and available.
As for Exeter's other two front men, Gow struggled to have an impact, while Bauza was the most effective of the three. He showed some good touches and was involved in Exeter's best moments, while he also had the ball in the net, only for it to be ruled out for an offside call. It is good to see him back, though, and hopefully, he can stay fit and play his part between now and the end of the season.
In truth, though, the players were not helped by playing into an absolutely blinding sun lingering low behind the St James' Road end of the ground in the first half. Nor were they helped by the state of the playing surface, which was almost as lifeless as the match itself.
Groundsman Clive Pring and his team have performed miracles in ensuring recent matches have gone ahead in the face of the most adverse conditions, but that has come at a cost, with the saturated surface taking a battering. Now, it is bumpy, bare and muddy in patches and heavy on the legs.
That is not conducive to Exeter's style of play, nor was the performance of referee Darren Bond, whose insistence on blowing for everything meant there was no flow to the game whatsoever.
It was a stop-start game right from the kick-off and never got going. It was the first time in 49 games the Grecians had been held to a goalless draw, the last being a largely forgettable draw at Oldham Athletic on January 21, 2012.
In a year or so, Saturday's game with Aldershot will not be remembered, either.