Saturday, 17 November 2007

A cup of good cheer

First published in The Grecian, 17 November 2007, Exeter City -v- Burton Albion

According to a certain kind of footballing wisdom, a good run in the Cup can work against the consistency needed to do well in the League. Well, yes, if the team is tempted to take its eye off the ball. But things can work in the opposite direction, too, and after the Exeter City performance I witnessed last Saturday in the FA Cup First Round, I’m convinced the Grecians can take some Cup bounce and inject it into their up-down-and-up Blue Square Premier campaign.

Make no mistake, Stevenage Borough may be a team in transition (who isn’t, frankly?), but they are also a useful side, and by signing up Peter Taylor as their manager they’ve issued a declaration of intent. They took a six point League advantage into last week’s tie at St James’ Park. But by the end of the afternoon, you wouldn’t have known it. The 4-0 result was no flattery to Exeter, who exhibited determination at the back, application in midfield, and daring up front.

The first fifteen minutes was a bit tense, with both teams concerned not to give away early hostages to fortune. But once Wayne Carlisle had smoothly tucked away an opportunity in the 18th minute and Jamie Mackie had capitalised on a poor piece of defending in the 40th, the team surged. When Steve Basham added a third with a sharp penalty on the hour, the Grecians were positively flying. Matt Taylor’s conversion of George Friend’s cross was the only addition to the score sheet in the last half hour, but it could easily have been a couple more.

The house was rocking, too. This is the happiest atmosphere I’ve experienced down Well Street for some time. The cries of “Taylor, Taylor what’s the score?” and “Give us a wave, Taylor!” from the Big Bank made you feel a bit sorry for the new Stevenage gaffer. It was a far cry from the Championship and the England bench, and though he clearly has some useful players, they were embarrassed by this encounter. That was a measure of Exeter’s endeavours.

Peter Taylor is a thoroughly decent man and a good manager. I wish him well, and like many Grecian supporters I appreciated the fact that he went straight to Mackie and Basham after the final whistle to congratulate them. This is what football should be about. Former Grecian Santos Gaia also got a warm reception when he came on12 minutes from time. This was a refreshing change from the Challinor boos a couple of weeks ago. Players who have given good service don’t deserve abuse when they return.

But back to Exeter’s prospects. There will be many more twists and turns before we learn if we can have another crack at Wembley and League Two. The title is already beyond us. But what the Stevenage tie confirmed is that the Grecians have it in them to succeed. No doubt there is strengthening and tightening needed. I’m sure Paul Tisdale has that in hand. However, we now have a keeper of poise and experience, the youthful wisdom of George Friend, Dean Moxey’s stylish revival, plenty of options up front (those who said Basham was a spent force are wrong) and resources in other departments, too.

The decisive thing is application and self-belief. Sometimes this season the team haven’t looked too sure of themselves. No doubt the manager and staff will now be urging them to go out on the park as if they are two up in the Cup every week! There’s no room for complacency, but plenty for wilful flair.

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