Match 22
1st December 1990
Stoke City (h)



There was delight at St James Park after Exeter's first League win since September 22nd came against the most surprising of opponents in high flying Stoke City. The game had gone past the seventy minute mark before Steve Neville finally broke the deadlock, and with Paul Eshelby's first senior goal easing the nerves of the City faithful eleven minutes from time, there were long overdue celebrations amongst most of the 5,377 crowd upon the final whistle.

The game started with a strong indication of the competitive and lively manner in which it was set to continue. Kevin Miller's only call to action was to comfortably hold a Wayne Biggins header, whilst at the other end Mark Cooper cleverly put Steve Neville in space and Paul Eshelby's cross presented a chance for Trevor Morgan, but on both occasions the experienced City strike duo failed to make the most of their opportunities.

Stoke's best chance of the half, and indeed the game, resulted from a rare Scott Hiley mistake which allowed Biggins a free shot on goal which grazed Kevin Miller's left hand post. That scare may well have been the spur City needed to spark them into a little more positive action, because despite having the bulk of possession up to that point only Gary Marshall had really threatened to make inroads into the strong Stoke defence.

Marshall's stylish performances have quickly made him a great favourite with the St James Park crowd, and he further enhanced his popularity by chasing a tentative Noel Blake back pass to bring veteran Potters keeper Peter Fox racing from his line to smother the ball at his feet.

One man who certainly did not enhance his popularity with the Exeter crowd was Stoke forward Billy Whitehurst. Two nasty looking fouls on City skipper Shaun Taylor within the space of three minutes had the home fans baying for his dismissal, but having shown the yellow card for the first offence, referee Roger Wiseman allowed Whitehurst to stay on the field, only booking Exeter physio Mike Davenport for rushing on to treat the floored centre-half whilst the game was still continuing.

The remainder of the first half was a bruising affair, with Trevor Morgan's knock down presenting the only real chance to Steve Neville on the edge of the six yard box. Although Neville turned swiftly, he couldn't produce a shot to threaten the Stoke goal, and the two sides trooped off the field at half-time with the game still goalless.

The early part of the second half belonged, in the main, to Stoke. Kevin Miller had to be alert to thwart Wayne Biggins after he had been put clear by Mick Kennedy, right back Beeston blazed a shot over from just outside the box... and the visitors even managed to force their first corner of the match, although the flag kick was eventually wasted.

Most of Exeter's attacking was still being orchestrated by the busy Gary Marshall, first beating Rennie to provide a good cross which Paul Eshelby headed wide and then setting up Trevor Morgan for a useful shot which went just off target. Mid-way through the second period Morgan again went close, latching on to a Steve Neville flick inside the six yard box but heading his effort over the bar.

A Mark Cooper free-kick tested Peter Fox a little after that, and although the Stoke keeper dealt comfortably with Cooper's curling shot he was powerless to stop Steve Neville from giving City a 73rd minute lead. Neville wormed his way into space at the near post, and drilled a firm shot past Fox and inside his right hand post to send the City supporters behind the goal and elsewhere in the ground into rapturous celebrations.

Within minutes City could have been two up, Gary Marshall's teasing cross being headed over the bar by Stoke's lan Cranson with Trevor Morgan lurking at the far post. However, there wasn't too much of a wait for the second goal, as on 79 minutes big Peter Cawley came up from the back to head a Cooper corner down and Paul Eshelby nipped in to apply the finishing touch and bag his first goal in the City shirt.

Kevin Miller excelled himself towards the end with a magnificent full length save from an Ellis shot, but as the final whistle sounded the cheers of the joyous and relieved Exeter supporters showed just how important this long awaited win really was.



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