Port Vale 0 Exeter City 2: Second home defeat in a row for Valiants
MICKY Adams wore an expression that spoke a thousand words as his beaten players trooped off towards the tunnel.
But you doubt if any of them would have been printable.
The Port Vale boss had just seen his team slump to their second home defeat in a row after a forgettable performance against play-off hopefuls Exeter.
While the Grecians showed just why they have an impressive record on the road, the promotion-chasing Valiants were left to lament some rank bad defending which proved so costly in the end.
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Pint-sized Jamie Cureton was somehow allowed to nip between Vale's big defenders to nudge home the crucial opener and there were more questions being asked before the break when Danny Coles bundled home Exeter's second goal following another set-piece.
Exeter were reduced to 10 men on 76 minutes when Mark Molesley was red carded, but the home side could not find a way back.
Boss Micky Adams went with the team which beat Torquay on Saturday, though striker Lee Hughes, who missed the trip to Devon with illness, returned to take a place on the bench.
Young stopper Ryan Boot, among the substitutes at Plainmoor due to reserve keeper Sam Johnson's thumb injury, dropped out of the squad altogether.
Exeter, whose record of 10 wins on the road before this one mirrors that of the Valiants, welcomed back experienced midfielder Matt Oakley after a long injury lay-off as the visitors lined up in a 4-5-1 formation.
Vale were quickly on the front foot and while Tom Pope's shot from the edge of the box was blocked and Jennison Myrie-Williams drifted one wide from distance, there was the feeling that the home side were keen to make an early impression.
But the visitors were looking to break from midfield and they hit back with a spell of pressure of their own which forced Myrie-Williams to make a diving headed clearance from almost under his own crossbar.
If that was a warning for Vale, it went unheeded as Exeter took the lead on 11 minutes. Oakley combined with Arron Davies down the right before swinging in a cross that should have been comfortably dealt with.
Instead, the diminutive Cureton somehow nipped in to head past Chris Neal via a slight deflection for his 19th goal of the season.
If questions were being asked among the back four, then rightly so.
Vale were looking for an immediate way back, and skipper Doug Loft was doing his best to drive them forward.
A sublime piece of skill won him the ball in midfield and a great pass over the top freed Ashley Vincent.
But strong claims for a penalty, when Vincent seemed to be upended in the penalty area, were ignored by referee Gary Sutton.
The home side were pressing again after 25 minutes, but a Darren Purse header was cleared from almost on the line by Pat Baldwin and Loft's long-ranger was deflected only just wide.
Mark Molesley and Dan Jones were both booked following a spell of handbags just inside the Exeter half and, while it was Vale doing most of the pressing, Tommy Doherty's shot fizzed past Neal's post as a reminder of the visitors' threat.
City were looking increasingly dangerous and doubled their advantage after 33 minutes.
Oakley's free-kick from the right was glanced towards goal by Molesley and, though Neal made a brilliant finger-tip save, Coles was on hand to bundle home the rebound.
Adams's men were facing an uphill battle now and things just wouldn't go right.
The impressive Loft was harshly booked for what was a nothing challenge and when Myrie-Williams fired in a cross-shot from the left, Calvin Andrew was just a yard short of being able to turn the ball into the empty net.
Loft's volley just before the break was deflected wide, but Exeter were defending for their lives.
Adams made a double substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Vincent with Rob Taylor on the left of midfield and Andrew with Louis Dodds, who was handed his favourite role behind Pope.
Exeter's Scott Bennett was shown a yellow card for a foul on Ryan Burge after 52 minutes and Vale were at last gathering some momentum when Myrie-Williams went on a typical jinking run, only to be squeezed out in the area.
Central defender John McCombe was replaced by Hughes on 61 minutes as Adams went with three at the back, and three up top, in a bid to get back into the game.
And Hughes wasn't far away with a snap-shot which was only a yard wide a minute later.
Richard Duffy cut inside to deliver a curling left-foot cross that was only kept out at the second attempt by a fumbling Artur Krysiak and the keeper had to be alert again when Rob Taylor's 72nd-minute cross gave Pope the chance to get in a header that was saved on the stretch.
But Cureton was looking for a third at the other end only to curl a right-foot effort just wide of the far post.
The home side were given fresh hope of a late comeback after 76 minutes when Molesley was given his marching orders after an incident on the Vale by-line.
The midfielder seemed to kick out at prone defender Dan Jones, though a melee of players surrounding the ball meant most in the ground seemed unsure of exactly what had happened.
Vale raced forward in the hope of at least pulling one goal back towards the end, but Myrie-Williams was woefully off target with an effort from the edge of the box and then wide with another shot when under pressure from a defender.
Dodds was inches away when he rattled the post with a right-foot drive from an angle, but the pressure was relieved when keeper Krysiak was awarded a free-kick in the follow-up.
An opportunity missed, perhaps, but there will be others to come.