The Grecians twice took the lead through 18-year-old Jamie Reid, making his full debut, but twice the struggling Londoners hit back through Luke Moore.
"We always knew it was going to be a really difficult game to play because we knew Exeter would come to win. It was win or bust for them and that's always tricky to play against," Ardley said.
"It was probably a great game for the neutral but it wasn't a great game for me and I think I'll find a few grey hairs in the morning. But I can't fault the lads. That to me looked like a team absolutely fighting for everything and that's all I can ask of them.
"It was always going to go down to the last game. We've come back twice from being behind and that doesn't happen without character and drive. They gave absolutely everything.
"We've come a long way since October I think, since I arrived. They showed a hell of a lot of bravery."