A brilliant strike from Jamie Bowden was only a consolation as Latics slipped to defeat at St James Park.
The on loan Tottenham midfielder found the target in superb fashion with six minutes remaining but it could not prevent defeat in Devon.
This was always going to be a tough assignment for Keith Curle’s side against an Exeter team who were targeting a club record 14th game without defeat and so it proved.
The home side stuck early in both halves and although Bowden’s goal led to a late rally, Curle’s side will be disappointed with their overall showing.
Curle made one change from the Emirates FA Cup draw at Ipswich last weekend, Nicky Adams starting for the first time since August in place of Dylan Fage.
Adams had been missing with a hamstring injury and with a number of the lengthy absentees also nearing fitness, Ouss Cisse, Jamie Hopcutt and Jack Stobbs were able to take a place on the bench.
Latics had started brightly, Bowden bringing a good early save from Cameron Dawson after a run into the area by Nicky Adams had earned Latics a corner.
Minutes later, Bowden was involved again, feeding the ball out to the left as the visitors broke well, allowing Benny Couto to cut in and his drilled shot flashed narrowly wide of the far post.
Yet things soon turned against Latics, Matt Jay putting the home side in front with a touch and shot from inside the area after a run and pass from Josh Key.
Although the home side proceeded to take control of the play, chances were at a premium. Latics tried to respond as Adams broke down the right again but Hallam Hope was unable to connect with his cross, while a shot from Bowden shot was charged down by Jay.
Nombe headed over from Key’s right-wing cross and the hosts increased their lead early in the second half, Jevani Brown steering the ball home to capitalise on a slip in the Latics defence.
Curle looked to the bench as he tried to bring about change, Hopcutt coming on having been sidelined since August, while Stobbs and Zak Dearnley were also introduced.
Latics’ biggest threat came from the crosses supplied by Adams on the right but despite sending the ball into good areas, there was often no visiting player there to capitalise.
Exeter should have added a third just after the hour, Brown racing clean through on goal having seized on a slip from Jordan Clarke but he sent his effort wide with the target gaping.
By the time Bowden found the target - firing a swerving strike from 30 yards past the outstretched Dawson and into the top right-hand corner - Latics had started to threaten again.
Hopcutt had a chance while Clarke delivered a cross in the closing stages, only for Stobbs to miscue before Adams shot over.
Bowden’s free-kick in stoppage time also struck the Exeter wall but the late flurry could not prevent defeat.
Oldham Athletic: Leutwiler, Clarke, McGahey, Piergianni, Adams, Whelan, Hope, Keillor-Dunn (Hopcutt 61), Bowden, Bahamboula (Dearnley 61), Couto (Stobbs 59).
Subs not used: Southerington, Cisse, Fage, Diarra.
Exeter City: Dawson, Caprice, Ray, Jay (Atangana 80), Collins, Nombe, Key, J Brown (Amond 80), Sweeney, Kite, Hartridge.
Subs not used: S Brown, Daniel, Grounds, Edwards-Owura, Coley.
Referee: Declan Bourne
Attendance: 5,103 (195 away)