Saturday, 4 April 2009

Being tested against the best

First published in The Grecian, 04 April 2009, Exeter City -v- Dagenham and Redbridge

The midweek game against Port Vale at St James’ Park was a rollercoaster of an affair – and exactly the kind of solid football entertainment that secures more than 4,000 people coming out on a coldish Tuesday evening… the lifeblood of the success we all want for the Grecians.

The fact that Exeter won 1-0 was the clincher, of course. We might have felt quite a bit different if Vale had squeaked an equaliser or edged a victory. That they did not was down to the sheer guts, determination and organisation of City after the early dismissal of defender Danny Seaborne.

As I’ve said before (and you don’t have to be an expert to notice it!), these are just the qualities the Grecians need to see through this season to a successful conclusion. And right now, things are looking good. With 65 points, we are in fifth place and just one point adrift from second. There is enough of a cushion for minor slippage and a real opportunity to forge further ahead and secure a promotion place with a few decent results.

Today’s game against Dagenham and Redbridge (four points below the play-off zone with a game in hand) is crucial, and the away match at Brentford will be a huge test. We are matching ourselves against some of the best in the division, with Wycombe, Lincoln, Morecambe and Rotherham still to come.

But back to other night for a moment. Before Danny’s rather unfortunate dismissal (it might have seemed harsh, but the rules leave little room for discretion over dissent), the Grecians were pushing hard for a goal. Valuable new addition Stuart Fleetwood looked menacing then and throughout the game, though he may have been missing just a tiny bit of match-timing on the finishes.

Then City were down to ten men. In some instances, teams become uneasily cautious at this point, by instinct if not design. But Tisdale’s troopers were not bowed in the least. The attacking fervour continued, and was rewarded by a gifted goal that ended up securing all three points – after a dogged display that extended right into the fourth minute of the three given as overtime, according to my watch!

Incidentally, by some strange coincidence, the own goal here at St James’ Park occurred at almost exactly the same time as one for my team Dumbarton playing away in the wilds of Elgin on an even colder night up there. And by a player wearing exactly the same shirt number, too.

I keep in touch with my friends in Scotland by text if there’s a match happening at the same time there while I’m at St James’s. This one started 15 minutes earlier, but the symmetry of those much-needed goals at virtually the same point on the clock couldn’t have been better.

Commenting after the Port Vale game, Paul Tisdale noted that City looked the better and more threatening side with ten players. Why does this so often seem to be the case? It is one of the abiding mysteries of football … and is probably as much to do with being required to really think and concentrate in every area of the pitch as anything else. When there’s no room for error, you make fewer mistakes.

Mind you, Port Vale came close on a couple of occasions, with some astute keeping from Paul Jones playing an important role late on. But the Grecians might have nicked two or three more goals overall, the gaffer proclaimed, hailing the victory as “one of the biggest and best performances in almost three years.”

Few who witnessed it would disagree, and that is exactly the kind of spur that the players need heading into the all-important final furlong of the 2008-9 League Two race.

What mustn’t happen is any relaxation of pressure on sides coming to the Park, or on those who face us away from it. Because it is precisely that relentlessness, together with a well-paced passing game, tightness at the back and good finishing that is needed to get us where we want to be. One division higher.

1 comment:

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