Rory McArdle’s disallowed goal was to be the deciding factor on Tuesday night as Exeter City were pegged back to a goalless draw with Walsall at St James Park.

An immense number of opportunities were left to be rued as both sides misfired. Exeter’s deficit to the playoff spots was extended as results elsewhere saw Newport County leapfrog the Grecians.

Matt Taylor named five changes from the side that was beaten by Crawley Town on Saturday. Rory McArdle made his first start since sustaining an injury in early February. Pierce Sweeney and Tom Parkes were absent from the squad, with the latter serving a suspension picked up by a red card last time out.

Walsall also brought five changes to the West Country following their defeat to Bradford City. The Saddlers’ only goal scorer, Dan Scarr, was relegated to the bench along with Josh Gordon, Sam Perry and Wes McDonald. Veteran forward Caolan Lavery was given his fifth start of the year.

Story of the match

First half

The match started remarkably evenly, with both teams enjoying a lot of positive usage of the ball in the opening exchanges. Despite the merry-go-round of the squad selection, the hosts looked particularly settled as they looked to penetrate the discipline Walsall defence.

It was the visitors who saw the first real chance of the match just beyond the 10-minute mark. After some strong play to win the ball back, returnee Stuart Sinclair sent a luscious ball forward for Lavery, who had timed his run to perfection. In behind the defence, the Northern Irishman’s effort took a wicked deflection and flew safely out of play.

Minutes later, Exeter clapped back with an opportunity of their own when they pounced on an unforced error by Hayden White. Youthful striker Ben Seymour swept up possession and played Joel Randall through on goal but his tame strike was headed straight for goalkeeper Liam Roberts, who eventually scrambled the ball clear.

City closed the half out with a strong appeal for a penalty being ignored by referee John Busby. Randall picked the ball up wide on the left and played a square pass in for captain Jake Taylor to try his luck from the edge of the box. The powerful shot travelled only a matter of yards before bouncing back towards its source, which the Grecians were convinced had been blocked by a hand.

Tempers began to boil over as the first half ticked to a close, and the two sides trudged off for halftime in a deadlock with squandered chances at either end of the pitch.

Second half

Exeter had the ball in the net within five minutes of the restart, but were refused the lead by the offside flag. Josh Key earned a free-kick wide on the right flank after being brought down during a counterattack. Matt Jay swung in a peach of a cross onto the head of the returning McArdle, but the 33-year-old was adjudged to have strayed behind the defender before nodding it home.

City maintained pace and intensity as the match wore on, and they were well on top when another attempt was blazed over in the 70th minute. Randall brought the ball down nicely with a cushioned touch on the edge of the box and he set a neat pass rolling for Seymour to latch onto. The 21-year-old executed a cheeky turn to shake off an incoming challenge but got his effort all wrong as he lifted the ball high into the empty terrace behind the goal.

Takeaway from the match

Take your chances

It is cliched but for good reason. As it transpired, just a solitary goal would have been enough to claim all three points tonight but it never came; not for the lack of chances. Exeter were left ruing the most as they worked the ball brilliantly but lacked the final product they needed as they seek playoff contention.

Man of the match

Josh Key – Exeter City

Youngster Key was a solid performer across the pitch and was key in City’s rapid transition into attack. The Englishman showed exceptional flair and desire throughout and came agonisingly close to nodding home the winner in the first half.