Keith Hill praised both teams after Rochdale saw off the spirited challenge of Exeter with a 3-1 win at Spotland.
Michael Rose fired the home side ahead late in the first half only for the Grecians to level seconds into the second half through Alan Gow.
But Dale stepped up a gear to clinch the three points with goals from Graham Cummins and Andrew Tutte.
Victory kept Dale level on points with Oxford and Chesterfield at the top of League Two and boss Hill said the result was deserved - but also reserved praise for Exeter.
"I thought it was a very technical game for League Two and I thought both teams tried to play the right way," he said.
"It was one of those games where we had to accept that Exeter were going to have a fair amount of possession. We are a possession-based side and so are Exeter - there are not many in the league, let's be right!
"So it was very difficult, there were a lot of wrestles going on, but we did win our fair share, so I do believe we deserved to win.
"Their goal just after half-time was a chain of unavoidable events. The play was cleared but the ball ran into the path of one of their players and we were just hoping he misplaced his pass, but he didn't.
"That helped them and hindered us, but we got back on track and it was comfortable in the end."
The breakthrough came in the 39th minute as Scott Hogan's weaving run towards the Grecians' penalty area was ended by Pat Baldwin, who brought the Rochdale frontman crashing to the ground just outside the penalty area.
Rose curled the free-kick round the Exeter wall and into the top left-hand corner of Artur Krysiak's net.
Exeter were level within seconds of the re-start when a shot from Arron Davies was deflected into the path of John O'Flynn. His square pass was not controlled by Sam Parkin but collected by Gow, who forced the ball past Josh Lillis from eight yards.
The home side rallied and deservedly regained the lead on 65 minutes when Cummins met Matt Lund's inswinging cross with a glancing header into the bottom corner of Krysiak's net.
Tutte wrapped up the result in the 87th minute with an exquisite finish from the edge of the area, collecting Cummins' pass and curling a shot wide of Krysiak.