Exeter City fell just shy of a League Two playoff spot on Saturday as they were held to a 1-1 draw with Barrow at St James Park.
A glorious second-half strike from Thomas Beadling pegged the playoff-chasing hosts back after Matt Jay had put Exeter ahead in the first half.
Exeter went unchanged from the winning formula that bagged a last-gasp three points against Bolton Wanderers last week. Manager Matt Taylor set the side out in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with journeyman Ryan Bowman the lone striker.
Visiting Barrow brought four changes down to Devon. Patrick Brough returned to the defensive ranks, while Chris Taylor was restored into the midfield. Welshman Neal Eardley came back into the side and striker Scott Quigley had a new partner in Calvin Andrew with whom to see out the season.
Story of the match
The Grecians began excellently. Exeter’s movement was fast and determined and they looked as though they were ready to contest for the playoffs. Possession came through the wings on many occasions in the opening exchanges, and the wide-men linked up well to cause strife among the Barrow backline.
It was Barrow, though, who saw the first chance of the match go begging. Neat build-up play on the 10-minute mark opened a gap for Taylor to explore, and he was dished a waist-high ball in space. Not to be overcome by the awkward height on the delivery, the 34-year-old produced an unorthodox leaping volley but the connection was poor and it looped safely wide of goal.
Minutes later, the Bluebirds came close to taking the lead again – this time through the unlikely source of goalkeeper Joel Dixon. Dixon smashed his lines clear with little thought on precision and the ball appeared to catch the wind as it sailed towards the Exeter goal. Dixon’s counterpart, Jokull Andresson, was alert to the flight and managed to get his fingertips to the ball just before disaster.
City scored the opener just beyond the midpoint of the first half. Sublime work along the left wing saw Robbie Willmott handed the ball on the edge of the box by Lewis Page. Willmott fired a low delivery across the face of goal and it was comfortably turned in by star man Jay for his 18th goal of the League Two campaign.
Barrow refused to roll over, though. On the brink of halftime they came very close to drawing level when Eardley drilled a shot just past the far post of a hapless Andresson. The visitors saw out the first half with a decent spell in front of goal but failed to make ends meet before the break.
Barrow started the second half in the best way possible, levelling the game through Beadling 10 minutes after the restart. The goal came from a corner after Exeter had failed to clear, and the cross went deep into the mixer at the edge of the six-yard box. After pinballing about, it rolled nicely for defender Beadling to rifle through the bodies and beyond an unsighted Andresson.
The Grecians now had it all to do to book a place in the playoffs. The fresh legs of young striker Ben Seymour were introduced on the hour mark as City looked to press further forward in desperation.
City saw relatively little of the ball compared to the first half and chances were few and far between for Taylor’s men. One such chance fell to an unmarked Bowman, whose ambitious backwards header was easy for the ‘keeper to gather.
Bowman again was trusted with a gilt-edged opportunity with 10 minutes left on the clock. Substitute Seymour sent a brilliant ball across the box after finding space wide on the right and dispositioned gloves-man Dixon with the cut-back. With the full goal to aim at but arriving at great speed, 29-year-old Bowman snatched at the opportunity and sent his shot high into the stand behind the net – a defeated groan arose from supporters on the surrounding streets.
City plundered the Barrow goal for the final minutes but the flurry of chances came to nothing as they crashed to a frustrating draw.
Takeaway from the match
Bogey team Barrow strip City of playoffs
Barrow were nothing special today, but their brutish attitude and ferocious style earned a point and, more significantly, stripped City of an additional two. Exeter have dropped four points to the Bluebirds this season, despite Barrow struggling at the bottom of the division for the entire campaign. Barrow beat Exeter, 2-1, in the reverse fixture in April – a defeat that has ultimately denied City a shot at promotion.
Man of the Match
Robbie Willmott – Exeter City
Willmott was a major asset to Exeter’s attack on the left wing. The 30-year-old had a beautiful connection to left-back Lewis Page throughout the match and their seamless passing crafted the opening goal.