Match 52
4th May 1991
Fulham (home)


REFEREE Keith Cooper can expect honorary membership of the Fulham fan club after his decision to send off Exeter City goalkeeper Kevin Miller at St James's Park on Saturday just about ensured the London club's Third Division survival. The official from Freshbrook showed Miller the red card in the 27th minute for bringing down Phil Stant. He also awarded Fulham a penalty for the challenge which Justin Skinner put past stand- in goalkeeper Gordon Hobson. That goal was enough to settle a game ruined as a spectacle by Mr Cooper's over-zealous interpretation of the professional foul law.And the three precious points for Fulham mean they have beaten the drop to Division 4 with Mansfield, Crewe and Rotherham condemned to relegation. Nobody was disputing the referee's penalty verdict except Miller, who clearly made a genuine attempt to get the ball as Stant rounded him and claims he didn't even make contact with the Fulham striker. The controversy in City's final home league match of a disappointing season surrounded Mr Cooper's assessment of the situation as Miller dived at his opponent's feet. Did he expect the keeper simply to stand aside and let Stant walk the ball into the net? Surely not. His decision to impose the ultimate sanction showed a complete lack of understanding and brought condem- nation from City manager Terry Cooper. He said: "It was a ridiculously harsh decision. The referee acted to the letter of the law not the spirit.

The best referees use their common sense in those situations. "What else could the keeper do? He has to go for the ball and he went for the ball. "I wouldn't grumble about the penalty al- though I think Stant fell over himself and if the challenge had been out- side the box and denied him a scoring opportunity I would have been the first to say the keeper should have been off. "But the referee spoilt the game as a spectacle. People paid good money to see entertainment and it was ruined. I was bored stiff." What made Cooper even more annoyed was the referee's tolerance of some pretty unsavoury challenges after the red card incident. "We saw elbows flying about which could break a player's jaw and nothing happens. I don't understand that,' complained the City boss. Four players - the Fulham trio of Jeff Eckhardt, John Marshall and Peter Scott and City's Scott Hiley were booked for varying degrees of foul play.  But three times Stant went in late on Hobson after he had donned the green jersey and on each occasion he escaped without so much as a word of warning from Mr Cooper. Fulham, helped to victory in the Craven Cottage clash between the sides in October by one particularly dubious linesman's decision, were not good enough to capitalise on City's disadvantage. They gave Hobson little to worry about and the experienced all-rounder produced one moment of sheer brilliance that Miller himself would be proud of. It came in the 35th minute with Chy struggling to regain their composure. Martin Pike crossed from the Fulham left and Stant's flying header looked a goal all the way but Hobson flung himself acrobatically to his left and somehow turned the ball over the bar. "If they show that on Match of the Day I'll be in with a chance of Save of the Season. I wouldn't like to play there permanently though," he said after- wards. "I'm hoping somebody will throw me a pint now and I'll catch that one.' Hobson also showed good concentration to deal with some dangerous cros- ses and got his body right behind the few shots that Fulham mustered as the City's undermanned defence and Hiley in par- ticular offered him stout protection. Skinner sent Hobson the wrong way with the penalty that settled the match. Miller may have been the man who conceded it but Richard Dryden's second mistake in almost as many minutes presented Stant with the opening. Up until then City had been well in control with Tom Kelly especially im- pressive in midfield and it had taken an excellent reflex save from Jim Stannard to deny Darran Rowbotham a goal after 17 minutes. City operated with just three defenders after Miller's dismissal and pushed Jonathan Brown into midfield but found it difficult to get to grips with their unfortunate situation. Brown was replaced by Murray Jones for the second half and Trevor Morgan also came on for Steve Neville in the last half hour combined quite well and when Shaun Taylor joined the attack from time to time, the Fulham defence looked in trouble. But they held out with the help of the woodwork Taylor was denied by the crossbar when he really should have done better with Gary Marshall's cross in the 71st minute and thereby avoided the drop to the the Football league basement for the first time in their history, much to the relief of watching chairman Jimmy Hill.

Exeter City: Miller, Hiley, Brown (Jones 46), Dryden, Taylor, Kelly, Rowbotham, Hobson, Boughey, Neville (Morgan 61), Marshall.

Fulham: Stannard, Newson, Eckhardt (Cobb 64), Skinner, North, Thomas, Marshall, Scott, Stant (Onwere 88), Brazil, Pike.

Attendance: 3,799.





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