Monday, 13 April 2009

Recovering from a really good game

First published in The Grecian, 13 April 2009, Exeter City -v- Wycombe Wanderers

Yes, you read that right. It’s not just the downers that can sap the energy out of you, but those strain-every-fibre matches where you emerge triumphant in the end – and then realise over the next few days just how much it took from you to achieve it.

Exeter City recovered magnificently from a hard-fought, first-rate win over Port Vale on 31 March, when reduced to ten men from early on, and then went on to claim an equally tough victory against Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday. As Paul Tisdale observed afterwards, there was some evidence of tiredness in the camp (perhaps that partly explains the errors that led to conceding), but Stuart Fleetwood lifted the side with two magnificent strikes that would have graced any division.

From the spectator’s point of view, both encounters were superb games of football. I’ve seen a few League One fixtures on my travels this season, but nothing to match the skill, guile and determination that went into those Grecians’ performances. The gaffer responded to the news that City had moved to second in League Two by banning them from talking about such things. A pipe-and-slippers sense of entitlement is not what’s needed with four games to go. But the auguries are surely good if a fabulous season can be topped with another promotion.

It’s a huge ‘if’, though – as this Easter Weekend emphasises. It doesn’t come harder in this division than a trip to top club Brentford and a visit soon after from high-flyers Wycombe Wanderers. I’m no crystal ball person, but I will say that a point or more from the Bees will have been a great achievement and that whatever the outcome, it is certain to have been a bruising encounter.

Fatigue finds itself head-on against adrenalin when you’re in the thick of the struggle. At Exeter City last week we welcomed back some Grecians legends from 1963-64. But the the team this year have been heroes, too. They will be more than that in the annals of history if we make it into League One, but whatever the final table they cannot be less. They deserve every cheer of encouragement we can muster. As the manager also told the BBC last weekend, the final few games are all about pulling together.

Meanwhile, new blood also has a vital role to play. The bar talk is about our Charlton loan star at the moment. But the quality performances this term have all been about a balance between solidity and flair, with Paul Tisdale fusing a tough core to the team with canny rotation and tactical flexibility. This is taking us to the edge of the next level in footballing prowess that many were hoping for several seasons ago. But the job isn’t done yet, and there will be knocks as well as spurs on the way.

Our opponents this afternoon know all about that. Since their home win against Lincoln on 3 March and a gigantic 3-3 tussle at Griffin Park not long after, the Chairboys (so called because they play in Cambridge and Oxford blue quarters) have had a frustrating time, sitting on the edge of the automatic promotion spots but suffering a string of losses and draws. Taking points today would be a huge boost for them, and it as much part of City’s aim to further deflate our rivals as it is to stack up the wins ourselves.

Meanwhile, a parting thought for those at the other end of the table. If it’s tough at the top, the fight against relegation is sheer torment. Luton are putting up a huge effort against what, minus 30 points from the outset, must seem like an inevitable fall into the Conference. Last week they won the Paint Trophy with a fabulous display at Wembley. Triumph in the midst of adversity: that’s football legend at its best. Meanwhile, there’s another dream to be kept alive here at St James’ Park this afternoon.

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