12th April 1993
Preston North End (h)
Exeter City 0-1 Preston
Match Report by Ed Hogg.
THE contrasting emotions dished up by life at soccer's sharp end were never more obvious than in the two post-match Press conferences held by Exeter City boss Alan Ball over the Easter weekend. At Home Park on Saturday, Ball was the epitome of happi- ness. Job satisfaction was nev- er better than for the man who has just masterminded a 3-0 derby triumph on his more illustrious neighbours' own patch. Questions were asked, answers were given willingly and at length and the victorious manager generously refused to be drawn into any criticism of his Argyle counterpart. Two days later and Ball, who treats failure from his players as personally as the parent whose kids misbehave in public, was squirming as he faced Pressmen. He wasn't simply disap- pointed. He wasn't just angry. Ball was genuinely upset and embarrassed at a 1-0 defeat by Preston North End that took Exeter's shocking recent home record to a pitiful six points from nine games. Reporters in search of lucid explanations were out of luck, Ball didn't have any. Fuming, he kept the inquest as brief as politely possible. Typically he said furiously: "To lose nine games at home is an absolute disgrace. We might not be good enough to stay up at the end of the season. Ball tends to rant immediately and mellow his assessment of a defeat later. A check on yesterday's results, remaining fixtures and the league table suggests 17th-placed City WILL avoid the drop. Ball has regularly stressed that 53 points is the target for safety - Exeter have 47 with five games left. But they can't be caught by Chester - in reality nobody can and Wigan and Mansfield are almost certain to fill two of the other doom slots. On current form the last is bound to go to Hartlepool, currently a place and a point clear of trouble. 'Pool, who have managed just 12 points from their last 22 outings, visit champions- in-waiting Stoke next weekend and their other three out- ings are against strong sides targetting the play-off places - Swansea and Bradford away and Brighton at the Victoria Ground.
But Ball's sombre reaction was wholly understandable. Gone was the zip and zest that humiliated Argyle. Grit and guile were replaced by a disas- trous lack of urgency. It wasn't until a minute into stoppage-time that Preston goalkeeper Simon Farnworth earned his corn, plunging to his right to turn Andy Cook's 18-yarder around an upright for an 11th Exeter corner. For all their pressure demonstrated in the 11-5 cor- ner count City scarcely threatened anything. John Hodge sliced hopelessly wide after three minutes when Ronnie Jepson released him into a position only slightly less promising than the one from which he brilliantly put Exeter ahead 2-0 at Plymouth. Jason Minett volleyed over from 25 yards on 25 minutes and again failed to find the target when Stuart Storer invitingly knocked down a 42nd minute Hodge corner. Meantime Ryan Kidd had nodded just over the Exeter goal, Cook and 'keeper Kevin Miller had contrived confusion that almost let in Lee Ashcroft, and Jepson's control betrayed him when Danny Bailey laid off a Storer cross. Two minutes before the break, Preston striker Tony Ellis could have added to his 24-goal tally when he found space to meet Liam Watson's right-wing cross but couldn't direct his header. Two minutes after the inter- val Ellis supplied Watson with the matchwinner. Scott Daniels allowed Ellis a route into the City penalty area and Watson gave Miller no chance by deflecting Ellis' 16-yard shot. Reversion to a more conven- tional 4-4-2 formation - at the expense of again rock-solid sweeper Kevin Bond - failed to provide City with a spark. Minett drove a 25-yard free- kick straight at Farnworth and substitute Eamonn Dolan shot weakly at the goalkeeper who then comfortably gath- ered a Daniels header.