Exeter City F.C
Rory McArdle 29
Stevenage fall to second Exeter City defeat as Grimsby win quickly forgotten
- Credit: DAVE THOMPSON/PA
The joy of Saturday's dramatic win over Grimsby Town has already been forgotten as Stevenage were brought crashing back to earth by a 1-0 defeat at home to Exeter City.
It was their first defeat at home in seven League Two games, the last one a 2-1 reverse against Bolton Wanderers in November.
The first half could have gone either way but Rory McArdle's header proved decisive and after the break there was a distinct lack of shots on target.
They stay four points clear of relegation but one of their two games in hand have now been eaten up.
There were always going to be changes to the Stevenage line-up, both from Saturday's game at Grimsby and the previous encounter between these two at St James Park, less than two weeks earlier.
The one surprise was in goal, the experienced former Brighton stopper David Stockdale replacing Jamie Cumming, absent with an ankle injury picked up in Saturday's success.
That aside, manager Alex Revell made another three changes. In came Saturday's match-winner Matty Stevens as well as Remeao Hutton and Jack Smith.
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Arthur Read, Luther James-Wildin and Charlie Carter the men making way, the first two dropping to the bench and the latter missing out altogether.
New signings Jahmal Hector-Ingram and Jack Roles, were signed too late on deadline day to be eligible and both will have to wait for their first outings.
What followed was a thoroughly enjoyable first-half in which either side could have gone opened the scoring.
It was the Grecians who managed it and like the game in Devon, the Boro defence was less than exemplary.
A free-kick out on the left was delivered beautifully by Jack Sparkes and Rory McArdle guided the ball wide of the new keeper.
A similar position saw Sparkes deliver another superb delivery with three minutes to go to half-time. Matt Jay was waiting this time but although he connected better than the scorer, his header came back off the outside of Stockdale's near post.
He wasn't the only one to test the rigidity of the woodwork. A superb move from Boro almost brought an excellent goal on 12 minutes.
Jack Aitchison dropped a great ball over the defence and into the path of Luke Norris. He took a touch before thumping a great shot off the top of the crossbar and over.
Norris had a couple of efforts that were stopped by Jokull Andresson and the Exeter keeper was also gratefully to see a fine volley from Elliott List moments after the goal fly into straight into his chest.
The break arrived with Boro very much in the game, perhaps only needing a bit of luck from their attacking endeavours.
Read was brought for the start of the second-half, Smith making way, and it heralded a good 10-minute spell for the hosts.
Hutton and List both got into good positions on the right but both hit crosses that were either too far in front of team-mates or which struggled to beat the first man.
And that set the tone for the rest of the game. Boro pressed at times but struggled to create a clear chance.
Stockdale almost produced the ball of the night to assist a Stevens goal. Having juggled and grasped a corner, He skimmed a long ball forward that put Matty Stevens in behind the defence.
Andresson came out of his goal to get to the ball just before the striker.
Norris had another sighting of the sticks but this time he had the company of two defenders and they did enough to take the sting out of the shot.
More substitutions came as Revell tried to spark an equaliser but for all the huff and puff and endeavour, another goal was looking highly unlikely with more than 10 minutes to go.
Six added minutes brought hope and a little bit of pressure but no more efforts as Stevenage succumbed to a frustrating and disappointing defeat.
Stevenage: Stockdale, Coker, Vincelot (Pett 62), Hutton (Newton 85), Vancooten, List, Smith (Read 46), Marshall (James-Wildin 74), Aitchison, Stevens (Osborne 74), Norris.
Subs (not used): Johnson, Martin.
Booked: Coker 55
Exeter City: Andresson, Caprice, Sparkes, McArdle (Parkes 86), Taylor, Seymour (Page 70), Collins, Bowman, Jay, Sweeney (Willmott 70), Hartridge.
Subs (not used): Maxted, Atangana, Parkes, Fisher, Key.
Goal: McArdle 29
Booked: Sweeney 49
HT: Stevenage 0 Exeter City 1
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Preston)