HE might have lost out in the sartorial stakes to dugout rival Paul Tisdale but, on the pitch, Gary Mills’ stylish York City side were more than a match for the chinos and tweed-clad chief’s Exeter outfit.
Indeed, when Michael Coulson cut a dash through the Grecians’ defence early in the second half to score his fifth goal of the season, the visitors looked on course to beat a team that had won their last four League games under the trendy Tisdale.
John O’Flynn went on to grab an 83rd-minute equaliser as the Minstermen retreated towards their own penalty box but, overall, the game provided another example for the tracksuited Mills that his players can turn heads in 2012/13.
Discounting the Capital One Cup penalty shoot-out exit to Doncaster, City have now lost only one of their last 19 away games – a 2-1 April defeat in Newport.
The team’s attacking potential, meanwhile, is best underlined by the fact that at least one of Coulson, Ashley Chambers , Jason Walker and Matty Blair have been on the scoresheet in each of the last 11 matches – a run stretching back to last season’s play-off semi-final, second leg at Mansfield.
Mills’ players are repeatedly proving themselves against some of the division’s leading lights and, while it’s still early days, that can only bode well for the rest of the campaign.
Coulson wasted little time in making his presence felt at St James Park, forcing former City loan ’keeper Artur Krysiak into a fine finger tip save from his fifth-minute free-kick.
Midfielder Jonathan Smith could not convert with his head from the subsequent corner, also delivered by Coulson to the far post where Chris Smith was lurking to meet it in the air.
Exeter, endeavouring to play the ball out from the back, were careless with possession in their own half on several occasions with Jonathan Smith firing at Krysiak from 20 yards after Danny Coles’ stray pass.
Much of the hosts’ promising first-half play, meanwhile, came through right-winger Liam Sercombe, who drove wide from 30 yards before sending in a flag kick that unchallenged centre-back Pat Baldwin thighed over Michael Ingham ’s bar.
After Krysiak pushed a fierce long-range effort from Walker into the air before catching the dropping ball, Sercombe also sent a 15-yard attempt drifting wide before providing the low cross that presented fellow wide man Aaron Davies with the chance of the half.
With City defending in a high line, Sercombe sprinted from his own half to collect Jamie Cureton’s pass down the right flank. Lifting his head to assess his options, the heavily-scouted attacker then removed Ingham from the equation with a low cross to the far post that picked out Davies but he somehow contrived to lift his six-yard shot over the bar much to the delight of a mocking away end.
In front of the same 194 supporters and with Sercombe having hobbled out of the action, Coulson handed one-time Southampton centre of excellence student Davies a lesson in finishing on 52 minutes.
Charging into the penalty box to collect Jonathan Smith’s precise through ball, following a smart Walker lay off, Coulson unleashed a low eight-yard shot that Krysiak could only help into his bottom left-hand corner.
It proved the last goal attempt that the visitors would muster for more than half an hour, however, with Mills’ team appearing to concede territory in midfield after the substitution of Jonathan Smith on 65 minutes.
After O’Flynn had headed wide from a left-wing centre, Ingham made his first saves of the game – routine stops from 20-yard Tommy Doherty and Davies efforts.
But left-back Craig Woodman threatened more with a spectacular 25-yard volley that brushed the former Northern Ireland international’s sidenetting.
O’Flynn then fired over on the turn just inside the penalty box before going on to snatch an increasingly inevitable equaliser.
After Clarke Carlisle headed into touch to concede a throw-in from an overhit through ball that might have been better left for Ingham to gather, Davies crossed low from the left and the unmarked O’Flynn opened up his body to guide the ball beyond the fully-stretched City ’keeper.
After he had been played clear through the left channel, Exeter substitute Elliot Chamberlain then dallied long enough for Chris Smith to make an excellent recovery tackle but it was the away team who rallied to go closest to a winning goal.
Coulson cutting in from the left fired across the face of the goal from the corner of the penalty box and Walker fed an overlapping Jon Challinor who drove high and wide from a narrow angle with only Krysiak to beat.
The Polish shot-stopper then preserved his under-pressure team’s point with an instinctive save low to his right after Dan Parslow’s firm downward header from Coulson’s corner to the far post.
Exeter City 1 (O’Flynn 83), York City 1 (Coulson 52)
Michael Ingham 7
Left exposed for Exeter’s goal and solid on an otherwise relatively quiet afternoon.
Lanre Oyebanjo 6
Conservative again in his forward surges but a little unprotected down the flank on occasions in the second half.
Chris Smith 8
A typically determined display by the City captain in which he gave no quarter.
Clarke Carlisle 7
Dealt with most things thrown at him both in the air and on the floor, bar the odd misjudgement.
Charlie Taylor 7
Following a difficult outing against Chesterfield was spot on with his decision making and responded well against Sercombe.
Dan Parslow 8
An all-action performance which would have been capped with a fine winning goal but for Krysiak.
Jonathan Smith 8
Pushed Exeter back and provided typical bite in the challenge, as well as a subtle assist for Coulson’s goal.
Paddy McLaughlin 6
Put in a shift but a little peripheral at times on his return from international duty with Northern Ireland under-21s.
Michael Coulson 8
STAR MAN – bright from the very first whistle and was as dangerous from general play as he was from set pieces.
Jason Walker 8
Controlled almost every ball played up to him as City’s lone central striker and, yet again, played a key role in Coulson’s goal.
Ashley Chambers 6
A quiet display on the flanks by this season’s standards and his threat in the final third was largely contained by the hosts.
Subs: Jon Challinor 6 (for J Smith, 65), Lee Bullock (for McLaughlin, 76), Matty Blair (for Chambers, 76). Not used: Musselwhite, Potts, McReady, Fyfield.
Artur Krysiak, Kevin Amankwaah, Danny Coles, Pat Baldwin (Jordan Moore-Taylor, 70), Craig Woodman, Liam Sercombe (Tommy Doherty, 48), Matt Oakley, Scott Bennett, Aaron Davies, John O’Flynn, Jamie Cureton (Elliot Chamberlain, 61).
Subs not used: Rhys Evans, Steve Tully, Elliott Frear, Jimmy Keohane.
Star man: Sercombe – City were relieved to see the back of him.
Referee: Steve Bratt (Walsall).
Rating: 7/10 Always up with play and kept things sensible.
Booked: McLaughlin 55.
Sent off: None.
Attendance: 4,092 (194 away fans).
Shots on target: Exeter 3, City 5.
Shots off target: Exeter 8, City 5.
Corners: Exeter 4, City 3.
Fouls conceded: Exeter 7, City 9.
Offsides: Exeter 4, City 1.