Saturday, 14 February 2009

A topsy-turvy old game

First published in The Grecian, 14 February 2009, Exeter City -v- Aldershot Town

What a huge tonic Exeter City’s sparkling display against Macclesfield was on Tuesday night. Not only did the lads win 4-0, the widest margin we have achieved since returning to League Two, but it was a fine performance as well. Smooth passing and good control in midfield were combined with exactly the penetration and finishing we need to consolidate that coveted play-off position.

Admittedly, the Grecians were facing what looked like a lacklustre and demoralised opposition. Though they enjoyed an FA Cup boost against Everton last November, losing 1-0 while gaining plaudits for determination, the Silkmen have subsequently experienced woes both and on off the pitch.

But nothing should detract from City’s midweek achievement, not least because (as gaffer Paul Tisdale revealed in his post-match interviews) Exeter have only managed one full training session at the Cat and Fiddle in the past three weeks of trying – due to the snow and icy conditions.

In a recent column, I noted that City had been struggling a bit in the goal-poaching department of late. But I also pointed out that we’d faced the same problem earlier in the season and had shown we can get back on track. Sure enough, eight goals in the last three games demonstrates that the determination is still there, even if we don’t yet have someone in the division’s ‘top twelve’ goalscorers table.

Today the Grecians’ finest face Aldershot Town, who have been using the transfer window to bolster their squad through short-term loan signings – most recently 22-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion Striker Jake Robinson, who will most likely start against Exeter this afternoon. He’s been with the Shots before, bagging four goals in ten appearances back in 2005.

Football being the topsy-turvy game it is, Aldershot were way ahead of the pack in the Blue Square Premier last season, with the Grecians sneaking up from behind to gain the second promotion place and Wembley glory. The Shots even claimed their deserved Conference title here at St James’ Park in April 2008, with a late equaliser in a storming match.

This term, however, it is Exeter who have been setting the pace and turning heads. Meanwhile, Aldershot come to us on the back of three maulings against Rochdale, Brentford and Bury. They have yet to record a win in 2009. That said, 13th place and 36 points in League Two is a sign that our opponents mean business. Their determination to reverse the New Year slump will be considerable.

On Tuesday night, the nearly three thousand fans who braved a cold but snow- and rain-free night enjoyed what turned out to be an absorbing, entertaining match. On Valentine’s Day there will be no love lost between the Grecians and the Shots, but we are all hoping for quality on the pitch.

Talking of ‘feeling the love’, two high-prifile football people who have been shunned rather than cherished recently are ‘Big PhilScolari and Tony Adams, abruptly shown the exit at Chelsea and Portsmouth respectively.

Of the two, Scolari’s sacking at Stamford Bridge attracted by far the largest number of pixels and column inches in a media hungry for the latest multi-million Premier League shenanigans.

Viewed from the saner reaches of the football pyramid, and from a team with a boss who has definitely secured a place in our hearts as well as on the bench, it is Adams who I feel most sympathy for. Pompey in transition, up for sale, short of cash, and with key players looking to move on was always likely to be a poisoned chalice, but it was one he couldn’t refuse.

Friend Peter Kay, with whom he set up the impressive Sporting Chance Clinic for people suffering from addictions, describes Adams as “relaxed, articulate, intelligent and funny.” A friend of mine who ended up chatting to him over breakfast after a Champions League final a couple of years ago agrees with that assessment. Tony’s also a fine coach with a natural, inventive football brain.

We need more, not fewer, people of decency and commitment at all levels in the Beautiful Game.

No comments: