REPORT: Wanderers v Exeter City

Wanderers launched the festive season in celebratory style with the win that sent them into Christmas fifth in the table and still looking up.

A superb Family Day crowd of just short of 20,000 enjoyed first-half goals from Conor Bradley and Dion Charles as the Whites backed up their mid-week win in the Papa Johns Trophy with a first home league success since the end of October.

A seventh success of the campaign at the University of Bolton Stadium could have been more emphatic with the electric Charles twice hitting the woodwork to go with the goal that took his tally for the season into double figures.

Bradley could also have added to his early strike in a totally dominant first-half performance.

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And while Ian Evatt’s men couldn’t quite hit the same heights after the break, they did more than enough to make it a happy Christmas as their challenge on two fronts goes on.

With both Ricardo Almeida Santos and Gethin Jones out injured for the first time as a pair this season, Kieran Lee captained the side.

And the midfield maestro led by example as Wanderers made the ideal start.

Evatt’s men gave an early sign of intent when Lee crossed for Charles to glance a header against the inside of a post.

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And with eight minutes gone the Whites were in front when Lee and Charles were again involved, with the latter laying the ball into the path of Bradley to ram home his sixth goal of the season.

Too often Wanderers have allowed the opening goal to go in at the other end but with the advantage going their way, they didn’t let City off the hook.

Bradley should have headed a second but nodded the ball wide from another Charles’ cross as the Northern Ireland duo combined again.

Exeter were struggling to cope with the movement and tenacity of Charles - whose combination with Dapo Afolayan again packed a punch - and with 26 minutes gone he got the goal he deserved to put Wanderers in even firmer control with a fourth goal in as many games.

Again, the Whites opened up City’s defence with a slick passage of play and when defender George Johnston got forward to reach the by-line and pull the ball back, Charles was on hand to stretch and steer a right-footed shot into the corner of the net.

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Charles was threatening to run riot as he then struck the foot of the other post with a low strike five minutes before the break and a three-goal lead wouldn’t have flattered Wanderers as they looked to put the game to bed.

The Whites were not so dominant after the break, despite still having a couple of sights of goal on the break, as Exeter tried to find a way into the contest.

And with 20 minutes to go Evatt made a double change to provide some fresh legs in the middle of the pitch in MJ Williams and the returning Kyle Dempsey to avoid any potential late lapses.

With Lee one of those to make way, Johnston took over as captain as the Whites went on to secure a welcome clean sheet with a new-look back line also incorporating Eoin Toal and Will Aimson on his firsy league start since October.

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Goalkeeper James Trafford was never seriously tested and with Evatt also able to bring back Kyle Dempsey from injury via the bench, it was a job well done for the Whites at the start of a potentially pivotal stage of the season.

Wanderers: Trafford; Aimson, Toal, Johnston; Bradley, Morley, Sheehan (Williams 71), Iredale (Beck 79); Lee (Dempsey 71); Charles (Kachunga 76), Afolayan (Sadlier 79). Substitutes: Dixon, John.

Booked: None

Exeter City: Blackman; Diabate, Grounds (Dieng 61), Hartridge; Key, Collins (Jay 82), Kite, Chauke (Nombe 61), Caprice (Sparkes 61); Brown, Stansfield. Substitutes: Lee, Harper, James.

Booked: Sparkes

Referee: Scott Oldham

Attendance: 19,942 (visitors 874)

Read Time: 4 mins