Match 53
11th May 1991
Grimsby (away)


Grimsby Town 2 Exeter City 1

Report by TRINA LAKE

TERRY COOPER was in typically positive mood after Exeter City's first season back in Division 3 ended in disappointment at Grimsby Town on Saturday. Grimsby clinched promotion by winning a dramatic contest that jangled the nerves at a packed Blundell Park. But with the cheers of more than 14,000 ecstatic Grimsby fans still ringing in his ears, City manager Cooper issued  message of hope for City fans. Amid scenes reminiscent of celebrations at St James's Park last May he pledged: "This could be us again in 12 months. We can have successful a season next year. We've got the nucleus of a good side. I just need to bring in three or four players and we'll be there." Grimsby joined champions Cambridge and runners-up Southend in rising from the Fourth Division to the Second in just 13 months. City were better than all three last season when they were worthy winners of the Fourth Division championships. But they could not sustain their success and finished a disappointing 16th in the table. Cooper said: "The others were all able to keep last season's squads together and add to them. That's been the key. "If we hadn't lost Clive Whitehead and Brian McDermott to Yeovil when we were up there with them I think we'd have been in with a chance. "But it's difficult to stand in the way of players when they get a chance of management. "They probably regret it now and wish they had stayed but it was their decision to go." Towards the end of this season, City regained the balance that was so badly disrupted by the departure of McDermott in particular. And there was ample evidence to support Cooper's optimism at Grimsby where City outplayed the home side for long periods and came within a post's width of denying their hosts automatic promotion. Incredibly, for the third Saturday in a row, the woodwork robbed City skipper Shaun Taylor of an equaliser. Had that late effort gone in or Gordon Hobson's deliberate and deft deflection of Scott Hiley's shot in the closing moments beaten Steve Sherwood instead of drawing a super save from the veteran goalkeeper, City's players would have done well to escape the field in one piece. As it was, some had the shirts ripped from their backs as a sea of black and white clad Grimsby fans flooded on to the pitch at the final whistle. There was relief mingled with the abundant joy the Mariners were given a real run for their money, especially in the second half. But two first half strikes from midfielder John Cockerill secured the points that take them back to Division 2 after a four year absence. Mark Cooper hit a superb 52nd minute consolation goal for City, taking his season's tally to 11. all of them in the league. The exciting young midfielder has been one of the success stories of City's season and he did well again on Saturday before limping out of the action with more pain from the leg he broke last month. Cooper and former Grimsby favourite Hobson were increasingly influential in midfield, offering good support to their front men. Murray Jones and Trevor Morgan formed an effective strike partnership, both laying the ball off well to bring others most notably wingers Gary Marshall and Darren Boughey into the action. They linked the attacks neatly but City's finishing power rarely matched some slick approach play. The back four performed solidly as a unit, all showing plenty of determination in an increasingly fraught atmosphere, but the punishment for mistakes was severe. They worked the offside trap exceptionally well until a fateful moment after 19 minutes when Richard Dryden missed the call. The rest of his teammates charged out as John McDermott angled a free kick to the right of the City penalty area, but Dryden hung back and played Cockerill onside, giving the Grimsby player time and space to control the ball and drive it past the helpless Miller. Cockerill struck again on the stroke of half time, making no mistake from close range after Michael Watson was given far too much room to get in a cross. City's reply after the break was of stunning quality, a real Cooper special. Jones set it up with a strong run and cross from the right, Morgan provided an immaculate lay-off and Cooper hit a rising 25 yard drive with his trusty right foot that beat Sherwood all ends up as it rocketed into the roof of the net. City then weathered a spell of sustained Grimsby pressure before finishing the game on top and coming so desperately close to snatching a draw. It was a measure of the home side's mounting tension that they stooped to some rank bad sportsmanship in the hope of sneaking a third goal. City goalkeeper Kevin Miller had deliberately kicked the ball into touch so that Grimsby's trainer could come on to treat the injured Tony Rees. It is now accepted practice to throw the ball back to the defending side when the game restarts in those circumstances. But Grimsby, to the obvious shame and annoyance of manager Alan Buckley, tried to catch City unawares by going on the attack from the throw. Referee Kelvin Morton stopped them in their tracks by awarding a free kick for a foul few but him spotted.  And they were so nearly made to pay for it as Taylor and Hobson came desperately close to equal ising in a frantic finale as the crowd made ready to charge forward. There was a mad dash for the tunnel when Mr Morton blew for time and while the Grimsby players were left to accept the adulation of their supporters, City quietly drifted away to contemplate what might have been.

"I thought it was a tremendous performance characterwise. Our players showed a lot of bottle. Hopefully what they've learnt this season will make them better players next year," said Cooper.

Grimsby Town: Sherwood, McDermott, Jobling, Futcher, Lever, Cunnington, Watson, Gilbert, Rees (Birtles 85), Cockerill, Woods.
Sub (not used) Smith.

Exeter City: Miller, Hiley, Brown, Dryden, Taylor, Cooper (Rowbotham 76), Jones, Hobson, Morgan (Neville 67), Boughey, Marshall.

Attendance: 14.225.





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