ACCRINGTON Stanley suffered a first league defeat in six as they put in a below par performance against promotion rivals Exeter City.

The third placed Reds remain in an automatic promotion spot despite their 2-0 loss but are now just a point ahead of their hosts in the League Two table.

John Coleman’s side failed to pose a great deal of goal threat in a game which saw the Grecians create the vast majority of the good chances and score at the end of each half.

An unchanged Stanley side took to the field at St James Park but found themselves on the defensive early on as Exeter’s Jake Taylor shot over the bar before Liam McAlinden dragged an effort wide inside the opening ten minutes.

Home manager Paul Tisdale had slammed the performance in their midweek defeat to Crawley and was getting a response from his players who went close to opening the scoring on two more occasions in the first 20 minutes.

First Hiram Boateng found space inside the area on the right and from an angle fired wide of the left post before Taylor went closer still, hammering the crossbar with a strike from the edge of the penalty area.

After that it seemed the Reds had weathered the storm, with Sean McConville inches off target with a free kick, Mallik Wilks drilling wide and Mark Hughes heading into the arms of goalkeeper Christy Pym from a McConville free kick.

But in the second minute of added time the host found a way through thanks to Boateng. Strikers Liam McAlinden and Jayden Stockley exchanged passes, the ball bounced favourably off McAlinden and ricocheted off Ben Richards-Everton to Boateng who dispatched the ball past Aaron Chapman to send Exeter in at half time 1-0 up.

Stanley looked to respond quickly after the restart and saw Callum Johnson hit the side netting after Billy Kee had pulled the ball back to him but for all they started the half with purpose they became increasingly vulnerable to the counter attack.

The fortunately ineffective McAlinden gave the first indication of Exeter’s abilities on the break when he limply stabbed a shot at Chapman when one on one but Dean Moxey went far closer, forcing Chapman to turn the ball over the bar with an effort from the left wing.

A cameo appearance from Stanley sub Mekhi McLeod saw the winger shoot wide, get injured and punch the underside of the dugout after he himself had been subbed before his replacement almost conjured a leveller.

17-year-old Niall Watson was making his Football League debut and crossed well from the left for Farrend Rawson only for the defender to be thwarted by a goal line clearance.

A second Exeter goal would put the outcome beyond doubt and but for Chapman it would have come sooner. The keeper pushed out a McAlinden strike from the right and when Stockley met the rebound a combination of Chapman and Rawson kept the ball out at the near post.

Five minutes from time the goal did come though, with City awarded a late penalty when Stockley tumbled dramatically in the box after minimal contact from Richards-Everton, ref John Brooks didn’t point to the spot but his assistant flagged and defender Pierce Sweeney dispatched the spot kick.

The defeat leaves Stanley four points behind both Luton and Notts County who both won.