Conor Thomas’ penalty on his return to the team ensured Cheltenham Town earned a point against play-off chasing Exeter City in a dramatic Sky Bet League Two encount
Thomas' second half spot-kick came as a result of a hefty challenge by Exeter keeper Christy Pym on leading scorer Luke Varney, which meant the forward was stretchered off after a lengthy delay.
Dean Moxey had originally given the visitors the lead in the first period thanks to a low effort, and substitute Rakish Bingham came close to sealing a comeback win but the Grecians keeper held his effort well to ensure a share of the spoils, before being dismissed for a second yellow card in stoppage time.
Robins boss Michael Duff made two changes to the side that claimed their first away win in seven games last weekend for the Exeter clash, with Conor Thomas and Billy Waters replacing Jordan Tillson, who was ineligable against his parent club and the injured Tyrone Barnett.
Thomas got straight into the thick of the game and nearly picked out a great lofted pass through to Waters, but the pass had a bit too much power on it and the danger was easily gathered by City stopper Pym.
The midfielder was seeing a lot of the ball in the opening stages of the game and continued to pick out good balls to his Cheltenham teammates with Kevin Dawson, and Waters again benefiting from Thomas’ vision.
Cheltenham continued to gather momentum in the opening 10 minutes of the game, and centre-back Will Boyle made a rare trip into the 18-yard-box for a Robins attack. He managed to play a good through ball in to Dawson but the energetic midfielder’s effort rolled just wide of the post.
Exeter’s first chance of the game was the best chance that either side had during the first half, as a splitting ball down the middle of the field found Matt Jay in lots of space on the right-hand side and was unfortunate to see his drilled effort fly past Cheltenham keeper Scott Flinders post.
Chances in the latter stages of the first forty-five were few and far between, but the Robins found an opening down the right flank when Waters and wing-back Ryan Broom produced some great interplay to get into the box and only some rushed Exeter defending prevented Waters following in.
Against the run of play, the visitors were the one’s to seize the initiative when defender Moxey drilled a low effort through a mass of bodies which ended up squeezing past Robins keeper Flinders at his near post to give Exeter the lead.
There were very sad scenes at the beginning of the second period when Robins striker Varney and Exeter keeper Pym collided in an aerial duel which resulted in a penalty for the Robins, but also meant Varney required urgent medical attention.
After a lengthy stoppage, Cheltenham’s top-scorer was stretchered off by the Robins medical staff for some treatment. Once play resumed, Thomas stepped up to take the penalty and emphatically got the Robins back on level terms – smashing the penalty into the top corner.
Clearly buoyed by the equaliser, the hosts continued to assert their dominance on proceedings and came close to a quick turnaround shortly after netting the equaliser when Broom’s deflected effort fell the way of Dawson on the edge of the box, and the Irishman’s volley – which was destined for the top corner – had to be clawed away by Pym to deny Cheltenham taking the lead.
The visitors were threatening more in the second half and defender Pierce Sweeney fancied his chances from distance as he unleashed a fierce effort towards goal, but the Exeter man saw his effort fly into the away fans behind the goal.
Substitutes Jacob Maddox and Rakish Bingham found themselves in the thick of the action with 15 minutes remaining in the game; the pair linked up well to set Maddox up for a one-on-one and only a fine last-ditch challenge prevented the midfielder prodding home.
Bingham had two excellent chances to giver the Robins the lead shortly after; first his low effort into the ground was met by a great save from visiting stopper Pym, and then Bingham’s header from a looping ball in fell narrowly wide of the post.
Dawson was the next to be presented with a decent opportunity to win the game for Duff’s men as Broom again threatened with a dangerous cross from the right, but the midfielder’s powerful header went wide.
Deep into stoppage time, there was still time for Pym to earn himself a dismissal after pushing Robins striker Waters over off the ball to earn a second yellow card, as Exeter played out the remaining moments of the game with 10-men.
ROBINS: Flinders, Hussey, Tozer, Thomas, Dawson, Broom (Long 88’), Boyle, Waters, Raglan, Clements (Maddox 60’), Varney (Bingham 57’). Subs not used: Lovett, Forster, Lloyd, Pring.
EXETER: Pym (Gk), Sweeney, Woodman (Boateng 83’), Law, Bowman, Jay (D. Wilson 68’), Wilson, Moxey, Taylor, Collins (Hamon (Gk) 90+11’), Brown. Subs not used: O’Shea, Martin, Holmes, Williams.
REFEREE: B Huxtable
ATTENDANCE: 4,079 (1,102 away fans)