Frustrated Forest Green boss Mark Cooper lost his cool after familiar defensive frailties resurfaced to cost his side a certain place in the third round of the FA Cup.
Leading 3-2 with just seconds to go, Rovers failed to clear a corner and Jayden Stockley headed a dramatic last-gasp equaliser to earn the Grecians a replay at St James Park.
It was too much for an emotional Cooper to bear, Forest Green’s manager hurling a water bottle to the floor in disgust and being sent to the stands by referee Gavin Ward.
Given that his side had already conceded twice from crosses, his frustration was understandable. He fumed: “When you are 3-2 up with 20 seconds to go, you really should hold on and win the game.
“When you’ve fought that hard with a patched up team to stay in the game and are on the verge of a brilliant victory, not competing for a cross and a header is scandalous.
“We need defenders who can go and put a head on it and a goalkeeper who can come and punch when it’s a crucial time like that.
“The equalising goal is absolutely criminal. If you’re a goalkeeper, you come and punch the cross. If you’re a defender, you compete for the header. I’m disappointed we’ve not seen the game out and the referee has sent me off for throwing a water bottle on the floor.”
Missing four regular starters through a combination of injury and illness, Rovers nevertheless matched League Two promotion candidates Exeter blow for blow and took a 25th minute lead.
Having sent a header wide, Christian Doidge made no mistake when opportunity came knocking again, racing on to Reece Brown’s perfectly-weighted through ball and guiding his shot beyond Pym.
Doidge might have added to his tally before Grecians boss Paul Tisdale made a change, introducing Ryan Harley and switching to a 4-4-2 formation for the final half hour.
The improvement was instantaneous, Exeter scoring twice in seven minutes to turn the tables.
Jake Taylor met a Luke James cross with a free header to restore parity and Stockley converted Hiram Boateng’s pin-point centre from six yards out to the delight of the travelling fans.
There followed a dramatic twist in the tale, Rovers themselves netting twice in quick succession to revive their prospects of making the third round for the first time since 2009.
The ubiquitous Doidge created a simple equaliser for Scott Laird and then fired Rovers into an unlikely
3-2 lead in the second minute of added time, taking his goals tally for the season to 14.
With one foot in the next round, Rovers lowered their guard and Stockley made them pay.
Tisdale said: “If you offered me the choice, I’d like to play the replay here. It’s a brilliant venue for an FA Cup tie and the atmosphere was amazing today. It was a really good game and there was never more than a goal in it either way.
“It looked like both sides could win it or lose it and it must have been exciting for the supporters.
“We looked as though we’d done enough, but fair play to them for coming back like that at the end.
“We then came back at the death and I think 3-3 was a fair result in the end. Both sides played well and neither deserved to lose what was a really good cup tie.
“Jayden Stockley took his goals well and we showed good character to come from behind twice and earn a replay. It’s not exactly what we want with a busy period coming up, but at least we are in the draw for the next round.”