Exeter City 4
Duke (OG) 11, D’Ath 45, Bennett 84, O’Flynn 89
Bradford City 1
Saturday 16 March, 2013
By David Lawrence
You don’t want to read this. City’s promotion hopes are over. Told you.
You don’t want to read, what you probably suspected beforehand anyway, that City are just not good enough this time around.
You don’t want to hear how a team good enough to beat any team in the league also struggle to put away any team in the league.
This was again the case at St James Park, Exeter.
City rocked up unbeaten but unimpressive since Wembley, hoping to finally get their late push for promotion going in a six-pointer against a significantly weakened Grecian side. Once again Phil Parkinson had changed things around, making considerable modifications from the team that misfired at lowly Plymouth on Tuesday night. The most significant of these being a starting berth for the uncared for Alan Connell, who had been putting in good late cameos to suggest he could be the man ‘in form’ to create, if not score, the goals City have been so sorely lacking of late.
Before kick-off the atmosphere amongst both sets of fans was nervous, anticipatory and, unlike the weather, friendly. This was a welcome relief to the real football fans that may have feared the worst from the warnings of possible trouble. If you’ve not had the pleasure or inclination to go to St James Park you ought to be aware that the parking is rubbish, the away facilities are rubbish, the pubs around the ground are rubbish but the welcome in their supporters bar is far better.
It’s got a lot of what football should be about: a community helping to run their club and create a welcoming atmosphere to have a drink, and a chat with like-minded footy fans. No plastics anywhere.
One Exeter fan from their supporters trust Bernadette, summed up how they felt about her teams’ chances; particularly with their midfield maestros Alan Gow and ex-cityite Tommy Docherty missing: a cautious ‘victory or draw’. The few City fans that were there, many of which had stayed down in the south-west since Plymouth, tried to resist repeating the ‘bloody obvious’ importance of the match by sharing tales of their antics through the week; the most bizarre being throwing snowballs by Dartmoor prison.
Wishing each other well, but not good luck, the supporters filed off to their respective areas. City fans that wanted to stay dry were ripped off by paying £21 to sit in an old mainly wooden stand (yes I know) , rocking dementedly from side to side during the game to see what was happening behind the large girders blocking their view. Meanwhile, those hardy/daft enough stood behind the goal were open to the elements. They made a wrong choice as, before the kick off, there was a torrential downpour which spoilt their and City’s chances of having any fun. The pitch would cut up fast.
So it proved. Within 10 minutes of the match, the pitch resembled a farmer’s field. Previous to that City had started brightly. You know the script by now; we have lots of possession but don’t really create ‘real’ opportunities to score; half chances had left City in this last-chance saloon and there was no inclination the status quo was about to change. The one notable incident from the opening exchange was Andrew Davies being injured in an innocuous challenge which at one point prompted the stretcher. After several minutes he came back on to begin his worst ever performance in a City shirt. Brave but a bit daft, given the quality of Rory McArdle on the bench.
This wasn’t to be the only calamity of the afternoon though. Step forward Matt Duke. Hero to villain. On 11 minutes he appeared to be doing some ‘live’ coaching to Jonny Mac on how not to come for crosses and palmed the ball into his own net. Sucker punch worth watching again for its morbid hilarity. He wasn’t finished there though, as his afternoon to forget got worse in the first half stoppage time. New loan signing (yes you can still bring players in to bolster a promotion push) D’Ath (from Reading no less) mustn’t have believed his luck as Duke hesitated and then mis-judged a cross to the far post. 2-0.
City traipsed off looking dejected. Particularly James Hanson and Garry Thompson, who had both worked hard. The latter showing the kind of drive and passion unusually lacking today in our midfield. It needs to be said: we were missing Ricky Ravenhill in a game like this, with the pitch being in the state it was.
So it was something of a surprise to see Thompson not reappear along with Doyle, the pair replaced by Zavon Hines and the elusive Kyel Reid – Doyle had earlier taken a knock, which may have influence decision making. Yes we’d been short of width, but from none to two out-and-out wingers was a gamble. If the wingers could come to terms with the cut-up pitch it may have given Hanson some ball to attack, possibly force the impressive O’Flynn back and starve Gosling and Molesley of service. If it didn’t it would be a big loss.
In truth Hines got going from the off but was erratic and wasteful; whilst it took the more potent Reid a good 10 to 15 to get into the match. This is when City had their best chances of the game; not least Hanson’s header that was cleared off the line from a Jones corner. Having aerial balls was suiting James, but he should have scored a few minutes later from a fine Reid cross. Apparently, Parkinson commented afterwards that City lack a striker brave enough to put his head where it hurts. We all know James is nice but not naughty. Hence his poor scoring record. Oh for a Lee Mills or a Ron Futcher.
City did manage to score though as Krysiak impersonated Duke and let a Reid corner swing all the way into his goal. City fans were briefly buoyed, but soon disappointed, as Exeter scored from the next break-out of play. Davies and Nelson’s persistence in standing too far apart all afternoon and the midfield being absent gave the impressive John O’Flynn time to set up Scott Bennett, who showed City strikers how to take their chances.
Wells came on for 10 minutes of doing nothing to add to Connell’s eighty minutes of doing nothing. Oh yes, Connell’s not been mentioned yet. He was lost in this game. Like a school boy playing for the first time with the seniors. League One player my arse. Not on this showing. His performance was so directly opposed to his fantastic cameos and put paid to why he was shown the door by Paulo Di Canio. Confirming Phil Parkinson’s judgement that he’s a better impact player.
In fact, as O’Flynn wrapped things up with a nicely taken fourth for the Grecians, City fans were left to reflect on their team’s and manager’s performance; no one was really surprise and certainly nobody had a passionate but angry rant. Parkinson had been unlucky that the selection was hijacked by the weather which cut the pitch up. He’s been unlucky too that he’s not managed to sign a ‘brave’ striker –perhaps a consequence of his strategy of signing ‘nice guys’ who fit in with a happy squad.
As we lose heavily and promotion goes out of the window for another year, his rotation policy since Wembley has clearly not worked. However, he had little choice given how jaded the players clearly are. You can rest and recover physically for the odd week, but to regain mental strength to put a serious promotion challenge in takes a good break from things. On this showing, the rotation is more about the squad ‘sharing the load’ to get the last few games out of the way.
As the bedraggled City players trudged off the pitch covered in mud they looked as defeated as the defeated soldiers did boarding the boats at Dunkirik. Many of those came back to conquer Europe on D-day and many, but not all, the City players will be back to try to conquer the league on August 3rd.
Now that will be worth reading about.
City: Duke, Darby, Nelson (Wells 83), Davies, McHugh, Thompson (Reid 46), Doyle (Hines 46), Jones, Atkinson, Connell, Hanson
Not used: McLaughlin, Meredith, McArdle, Ravenhill