21st April 2007
ON THE ROAD AT STEVENAGE
THE VIEWS OF JIM TUCKER
SATURDAY 21st APRIL 2007 NATIONWIDE CONFERENCE
Stevenage Borough 0 Exeter City 0
And so to the last game of the (regular) season, about an hour by car around the inevitable M25. But a rare treat for me, going as a passenger in my son's car. A lovely spring day, bright and warm, which not even the
Chinese State Circus, occupying the Broadhall Way car-park, and necessitating a walk from the town car parks, could spoil.
No-one reading this report will need me to tell them how much this game meant, and the various alternative scenarios that might be opened up, depending on how it went.
It obviously wasn't going to be a day for the faint-hearted, so what a joy it was to get behind the goal and be part of a happy, singing throng of Grecian faithful, in great heart and determined to do their bit for the team.
Only one team change, with the reliable Patrick Ada replacing Steve Tully at right back; no return for Paul Buckle, perhaps sensibly contenting himself with partnering manager Tisdale on the touch-line.
City came out to a superb. balloon-releasing welcome. and kicked off, playing away from us. Immediately the home no. 4, a striker the height of Blackpool Tower called Luke Oliver, sent Billy Jones sprawling The referee opted for a stern talking to rather than a card, and it seemed to do the trick.
It was soon clear that both sides were up for this one, Andy Taylor nearly put Adam Stansfield in, a long clearance form Martin Rice won a deep throw in, which Matty Gill heaved into the area, and Borough weren't afraid to come
at us, either. This already had the makings of a good game, although it took a while before either defence was tested by a direct effort at goal. In City's away strip blue, all the back men. excelled themselves, led by Edwards and Todd, blocking everything and keeping a very close watch on the likes of home danger man Steve Morison.
Ada soon showed he wasn't afraid to go forward, wingers Elam and Carlisle were lively, trying very hard to set Stansfield and Logan clear. Gill's left-wing corner came in hard and low and the deflection was within in a whisker of putting City one up; we were taking the game to Borough now, next Adam headed just wide.
But back they came, from a good cross that man Morison put his header the wrong side of the post. That time, and on plenty of other occasions, the positioning of Martin Rice in the City goal played a key role, showing just how important Ricey's form has been in this succession of clean. sheets at the business end of the season. We put together some nice flowing moves, and the ever-reliable Edwards was there to snuff out any home retaliation.
And when City got into dead ball situations, home goalie Alan Julian's handling was impeccable. This was the pattern for the half, plenty of fast breaks, for my money Elam and Gill the stars, Edwards and co. doing the honours when the boot was on the other foot. Neither side sat back on their laurels, so 0-0 at half time didn't really tell what a good game it was.
And that was how the game continued, flagging slightly in the second period. unsurprisingly given the heat. When Lee Phillips and Jamie Mackie took over as front runners it picked up again, Wayne Carlisle featured well now, and Jon Challinor came on to give Lee Elam a rest.
Either side could have nicked one, and neither gave up trying. Some of the shooting from the home side could have been better, but they had precious little room to play with. Had they done so, it might have flattered them, whereas we put them under more pressure as the game wore on.
A powerful Phillips header looked goal-bound before a good block from a defender- we all yelled "Handball!". What else would you expect? And late on, Matty Gill's corner was cleared, but the ball somehow came back to him, in the air, on the right of the area. He connected on the full, it hit the corner of the woodwork an skimmed the line - how close was that!
But that breakthrough just woul not come, and it finished goalless. Knowing that a win today against Southport will get us in the play-offs, no matter what else happens, the City fans gave their delight full voice, with players and manager alike showing their appreciation.
What a great afternoon! No goals, no win, but the crucial draw we needed. And what a good game, given what was hanging on it, two decent sides trading blow-for-blow and refusing to back down. There was no quarter asked or given here, but nor was there any hint of unpleasantness on or off the pitch an absolute credit to the Conference all round.
Yes, of course I have made the journey from Maidenhead to be here today. We're going to cheer the lads into the play- offs, I feel sure, and then...well we'll have to see!
Stevenage: Julian, Fuller, Nutter, Henry, Gaia, Miller, Cole, Stuart Lewis, Beard (Dobson 59), Oliver, Morison.
Subs Not Used: Potter, Hakim, Nurse, Guppy.
Booked: Nutter, Fuller, Stuart Lewis.
Exeter: Rice, Ada, Billy Jones, Edwards, Todd, Gill, Taylor, Elam (Challinor 87), Carlisle, Stansfield (Mackie 71), Logan (Phillips 71).
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Richardson.
Ref: P Gibbs (West Midlands).