Exeter City were held to a frustrating draw at home to fellow strugglers Gillingham at St. James Park.
Richard Duffy put the Grecians ahead midway through the second half with a deflected strike from 25 yards, but Stuart Lewis fired in unmarked just outside the box just two minutes later. And despite heavy pressure from Paul Tisdale`s men in the final fifteen minutes they couldn`t find the net.
City started off well enough, but were poor and disjoined for the final half hour of the first half. Marcus Stewart started up front with Adam Stansfield, and a change of formation saw Richard Duffy, Matt Taylor and Dan Seaborne as centre backs, with Steve Tully and Scott Golbourne as wing backs. James Dunne also replaced Alex Russell in the centre of midfield. City were pegged in their own half for much of the first half, and Stansfield and Stewart had to fight for the scraps that came their way. The home side were fortunate to reach half time level, as Simeon Jackson, Stuart Lewis and Dennis Oli all spurned good chances. Paul Jones also pulled off a superb save to his right hand side as the Grecians struggled in a game which they couldn`t afford to lose.
In the last action of the first half, Ryan Harley had a decent effort from 30 yards which was comfortably saved by Alan Julian in the Gillingham goal. This was City`s first meaningful effort on goal in the match. A major re-think was needed at half time.
James Dunne was replaced by Richard Logan for the second half, and City switched to a 4-3-3 formation, with Duffy playing in front of the defence, and Tully and Golbourne dropping back to full back positions. The change had an immediate positive effect, and Logan`s presence was much needed. Still, City couldn`t find a breakthrough in the opening ten minutes which they dominated. Gillingham then took the initiative for the next ten minutes. Twenty minutes into the second half, the booked Bertie Cozic was replaced by Alex Russell, who got a wholly undeserved frosty welcome from some sections of the home faithful. Nevertheless, Russell proved his point by making an instant impact. He delivered a telling ball down the right wing in the initial build up to Duffy`s goal. Twenty five yards out in a central position, Duffy found himself in space and struck a low shot which took a deflection and squirmed into the bottom right hand corner just outside the reach of Julian.
Up until that point, the lead was perhaps underserved, and unsurprisingly Gillingham upped the tempo in search of an equaliser. It came just two minutes after Duffy`s opener, and twenty minutes from time, when a defensive head to fell to Stuart Lewis, who had time to set himself before driving into the top right hand corner.
The home side realised the importance of this game, and the Exeter players gave everything in their efforts to find an equaliser. In the final twenty minutes, there were at least four or five occasions where the Grecians could have scored. However, they had efforts cleared off the line twice, and Russell saw his superb twenty five yard volley rebound on the base of the post. The onslaught continued to the final whistle, and in City`s last opportunity, Julian saved well from Harley`s 25-yard free kick.
City`s sixth home draw of the campaign sees them move up a place to 18th, but are now only two points clear of Leyton Orient in the final relegation spot. This result ends a run of eight successive away defeats for Gillingham, and is only their second point away from the Priestfield all season. The Grecians will rue this opportunity to pick up three valuable points, and now face two difficult matches away at Norwich and at home to Leeds United.
Paul Jones 8
Steve Tully 7
Matt Taylor 7
Dan Seaborne 6.5
Richard Duffy 7
Ryan Harley 6
James Dunne 6
Bertie Cozic 6
Scott Golbourne 7
Marcus Stewart 6.5
Adam Stansfield 6.5