Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale has defended his team selection for Monday night's 1-0 Devon derby defeat to Torquay United at St James' Park.
The Exeter boss, without the injured John O'Flynn, elected to leave 16-goal top goalscorer Jamie Cureton on the substitutes' bench and started Alan Gow, more effective as a deep-lying forward, as a lone striker.
However, with Gow regularly dropping deep to join a five-man midfield, it meant the Grecians were chronically short of attacking options and did not pose a goal threat, with their formation effectively a 4-6-0.
They managed only one shot on target in the first half and it was not until Cureton's introduction on the hour mark, along with Guillem Bauza, that Exeter gave the Torquay defence something to think about and really looked like they might score. By then, it was too late and the opportunity to lay down a marker, move into npower League Two's top three and close the gap on the top two, Port Vale and Gillingham, was spurned – much to the annoyance of a discontented home crowd.
"We finished that way very well at Torquay last time and sometimes you do as well not changing things," Tisdale said of his selection.
"Look, I don't think that is the reason why we lost the game. The reason we lost the game was because we gave a very poor penalty away and the trouble that then caused us.
"I don't want to go too much into the thinking behind the decisions because it is probably not the best place to broadcast those views, but I think we did OK.
"We played very well in the second half against Torquay. We were always going to finish the game that way.
"Sometimes, by having more strikers on the pitch, you become more vulnerable, as we have shown at Cheltenham when we were chasing the game [City lost 3-0]. It is not always about how many strikers you have on the pitch, someone has to provide the ball into the box, someone has to link the play and someone has to cover the pitch and mop up the pieces. I maintain that I don't think we did too bad at all."
The problem with Tisdale's comments, though, was that a chronic lack of width meant there was no one to cross the ball anyway. The only width was offered by full-backs Steve Tully and Craig Woodman, but even they seemed reluctant to get too far forward.
With Gow dropping deep all the time, a lack of runners from midfield and no genuine striker, it led to an embarrassing lack of bodies when Exeter did work the ball into the penalty box.
Compare that with Torquay who, even in the closing stages, had four or five men forward when they countered.
However, it was Tully's rash tackle that preyed on Tisdale's mind. The City defender had been nutmegged by Billy Bodin before bringing him down inside the box. To be fair to Tully, contact was minimal, but it was a penalty nonetheless and allowed Rene Howe to score the only goal of the game.
"We have paid the price for giving away a very soft penalty. We were certainly good enough to create chances – and we did – and I am left wondering how we didn't score," Tisdale said.
"We have worked the goalkeeper, we had plenty of corners and opportunities and on the whole, we didn't do too much wrong. We just gave away a very, very poor penalty. It was a foolish piece of defending.
"The players need to release themselves from that anxiety and be pragmatic. If we had scored one tonight, we would have had the chance of a second, so there really wasn't too much wrong.
"The result certainly influences your emotions and if I have a criticism, it is that we didn't play with enough patience in the first half. That was essential. We just have to relax a bit and not worry so much.
"But the reason we lost the game is because we gave a very poor penalty away and that gave Torquay something to defend. The first goal is so important here."
To be fair to Tisdale, on his comment that Exeter finished the game well at Plainmoor, they did, but even then, for all of City's possession, they still lacked a presence in the box.
The one positive for Exeter to take from Monday's disappointment was an encouraging debut by Mark Molesley, who started on the right side of midfield for the Grecians.
"He hasn't started a game for a month now and he played the first half into very difficult conditions with that wind, but I thought he played with a lot of endeavour and he is going to be a good egg for us I think," Tisdale said.