Match 29
19th January 1991
Reading (away)



An incident packed and controversial game was the result of City's visit to Elm Park, with three players sent off and a late Exeter 'equaliser' disallowed, Croydon referee Ron Bigger was very much the centre of attention.

Throughout the first half City played some of the best football seen away from St James Park this season, with Paul Eshelby looking positively lethal on the right hand side of the City attack. Trevor Morgan was recalled into the central position, with stand in manager Steve Neville replacing the -hospitalised Terry Cooper, sitting on the bench purely in a managerial capacity.

Gordon Hobson has done everything but score during 1991, and only two minutes into the game he cleverly controlled a neat ball from Eshelby and got ahead of his marker only to hit his shot straight at keeper Steve Francis. City continued to attack with vigour, Paul Éshelby tricking his way past left back Morrow on innumerable occasions with the City winger never quite providing the telling cross and unlucky to see a firm right foot shot deflected for a corner. Gordon Hobson could consider himself even more unfortunate when a confident penalty appeal was waved away by referee Bigger after the stranded Morrow appeared to have cleared his cross behind with the use of a hand.

Richard Dryden and Gary Marshall combined well on the left on several occasions, but it was still the twin threat of Paul Eshelby and stylish right back Scott Hiley which caused the homesters most problems. An accurate through ball from Hiley was superbly met by Gordon Hobson who sprinted through unchallenged, but once again found Steve Francis a difficult man to beat.

Reading showed little attacking endeavour in the first half, the dangerous Gilkes had several good runs checked by Hiley and Trevor Senior sent a long range effort wide, but otherwise the first-half had belonged to the visitors.

The second half though got off to the worst of starts, with Reading's only clear cut chance of the afternoon resulting in the game's only goal. Michael Gilkes swung over a corner from the left, Morrow flicked it across goal and Craig Maskell's header deflected off the head of Richard Dryden and beyond Kevin Miller into the Exeter net - the strike eventually being credited as an own goal by the unfortunate City left back.

Exeter fought back in determined style, with Trevor Morgan causing problems in the Reading defence, shooting narrowly wide and seeing another goalbound effort turned over the bar by Francis. And it looked as if City would stand an even greater chance of getting something from the match when Reading's Craig Maskell become the game's first red card victim for an elbow in the face of Shaun Taylor as the pair tussled for the ball on the halfway line.

Jonathan Brown later explained that at this point he had gone round everybody on the City side warning them to stay calm as the referee might have felt under pressure to level things up. In the event it was Brown, booked in the first half for tackling Senior from behind, who found himself being ordered to leave the field after Mark Smith's shot from way out had cannoned against his arm and been judged as deliberate handball by Mr Bigger.

With both side's now level again at ten men each, Richard Dryden and Gordon Hobson came close to levelling the scores at one each, with Dryden's goalbound header cleared off the line and Hobson's powerful cross shot palmed away be the alert Francis.

But after 81 minutes, the referee went for his hat-trick and sent Richard Dryden off the field after his lunge had brought down Michael Gilkes when the pacy winger was clean through. In all honesty, Dryden's dismissal was a little more understandable as any offence punishable by a free-kick which results in an obvious goalscoring opportunity being denied is, according to referee's recent mandatory instructions, punishable by the red card. Nevertheless, it was clear that the City left back had not intended to bring the player down - had it been any other Reading forward it would probably have been a perfect tackle - but this case only goes to show the difficult position that referees now find themselves in (see Press Talk for more on that).

With City now one man down and only nine minutes left of play, one might have been forgiven for thinking that the Croydon official's drama was over for the day. But substitute Tom Kelly and Gordon Hobson joined earlier entry Mark Cooper in the referees notebook, the former for a clumsy challenge on Senior, and Hobson for dissent. And the absent City manager's son looked to have given Exeter an extraordinary point seconds from the end. Having apparently agreed with the referee to take a quick free kick, Cooper placed the ball and curled it brilliantly into the corner of the net, only to see his strike disallowed... because the referee wasn't ready.

It had been a strange game for the 800 strong Exeter contingent massed on the bank behind the goal, with their side dominating proceedings and still losing, only nineteen players being left on the pitch at the end, and a familiar looking, long haired figure battling away at the heart of the opposing midfield. The final whistle was greeted with chants of 'Danny, Danny Bailey' and warm applause for the former City star from the travelling Grecians - a generous and sporting reaction to what had been a difficult afternoon.



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