26th April 2008
Burton Albion (away)
ON THE ROAD with JIM SHEPHERD
Saturday 26th April 2008
Blue Square Premier League
Burton Albion 4 Exeter City 4
Well, now we know. It's two mouth watering W games against Torquay between City and a return to Wembley. For much of a roller coaster afternoon it looked like being City versus Cambridge but as Cambridge fashioned a two goal win at already safe Northwich, Torquay suffered a home reverse against Crawley, it was City and Burton who played out an absolute rip snorter of an incident packed game. It was City's equaliser deep into 7 minutes of added time at the end of the game that finally decided the play off picture. Oh, did I mention that City drew 4 all?
Exeter made 3 changes to the side that had started against Stafford 4 days previously. The changes showed as compared to tuesday Exeter were slow out of the blocks. It was a full two minutes before they went one up and again it was Moxey scoring his fourth goal of the week. Stansfield made a great run down the right channel and was found with a beautifully weighted pass. He dashed towards the by-line, pulled the ball back across the area and Moxey was roaring in at the near post to crash the ball in off the bar to give veteran keeper Kevin Poole little chance.
However, the joy only lasted 6 minutes. Harley was harshly judged to have committed a foul 25 yards out to the left of centre. Burton top scorer Clare stepped up to try and beat Jones at his near post when the ball flicked off Harley in the 4 man wall and nestled in the opposite corner completely wrong footing the City stopper.
But this setback didn't discourage City as they seemingly poured forward and continued to make chances. In a ten minute spell from the quarter hour mark City had three attempts cleared off the line, forced 4 corners including one from a 20 yard Gill pile driver that was deflected, and forced Poole into a save from a sweeping move that was nearly a carbon copy of City's opener. Firstly, Stanno's clever lob was scrambled back to him from under the bar, he returned the ball first time with his head but couldn't avoid the same defender on the line. Shortly a scamper down the left saw him feed the ball with a reverse pass to Moxey but the defence cleared for a corner. Elam and Tully then made space on the right but Elam's final ball had too much on it and Poole gathered easily.
After Gill's deflected effort a series of corners saw a Cozic header cleared off the line too with no City player able to convert the loose ball. City's best passing move of the match then saw Edwards break up play on the edge of the City area. He fed Cozic who in turn found Harley. As he carried the ball through the centre circle right to left he hit a glorious reverse ball to Elam. Stansfield ran ahead and Elam slipped the ball to him. His cross to the near post was met by Moxey againbut this time his effort was at the keeper. The final minutes of the half saw more City chances. Harley should have finished better when centrally placed. His sidefooted attempt was tame and easily saved. Then he was unlucky not to be found by an Elam cross after a quick throw. Tisdale made a change at half time. Gill, who, had it not been for an early season suspension would have been an ever present with Edwards, was rested for the returning Andy Taylor. It was noticeable that Taylor picked up the pace of the game easily and looked as if he'd never ben out of the side and City as a whole started the second half in the same vein. This time it was just over a minute before they scored. Stansfield eventually bundled the ball in from a yard out but that was after Poole had denied Stansfield and Moxey from close range, then tipped Moxey's delivery back across goal into Stansfield's path. City's reward for their good endeavours had come and the away contingent, amongst Burton's season's best league gate of 2881, were smiling in the early evening sunshine.
City also created the next chance on 53 minutes. Friend won the ball 25 yards from goal and proceeded to dribble through a veritable minefield of home defenders. He skilfully rounded three challenges before finding himself through on goal but Poole was brave and saved at his feet. Andy Taylor then saved City with a goal line clearance as a corner wasn't dealt with effectively. In between times Burton made a defensive substitution and Cozic was replaced by Sercombe on the hour. Clough, with 25 to go, then decided to rest top scorer Daryl Clare and brought on Williams who was to have an almost immediate and significant impact on the game. Barely 5 minutes after his arrival Williams succeeded. After Matt Taylor hand balled 30 yards out City again failed to clear the dangerous delivery into the box. The ball pinged around before Williams bravely stabbed the ball home at the same time colliding with Jones. The Burton players near the incident immediately called for attention and concern for the player lasted for several minutes before, thankfully, he recovered enough to gingerly walk off the pitch. He was in no condition to continue and was replaced by ex-City player Jake Edwards but his contribution had been telling. So would the added time the referee would then allow. Whether or not the stoppage upset City's rhythm they were two goals behind within 5 minutes of the restart. Harrad was the deadly assassin on both occasions as he calmly beat Jones low down in a one on one, then crashed a fierce effort from the edge of the box as Jones came to meet him. Jones got a good hand on the second strike but could only palm it up towards the top corner. Tisdale responded immediately with Logan replacing Elam but Harrad nearly got his hat-trick before Logan had time to touch the ball as he outpaced Friend on the Burton right and shot fiercely across Jones and wide. That was on 84 minutes but with the lengthy stoppage it still meant there was nearly quarter of an hour to go and City would need all of that to salvage the game. But the City pressure was mounting and with three minutes of regular time to go got a goal back. Friend stayed at the far post from a Moxey corner and as the ball came across the six yard box bundled home from almost the same spot Stansfield had 40 minutes earlier. This set up a frantic last few minutes. Friend and Jones just managed to deny Harrad again and then results started filtering through. Cambridge had won by two goals, Torquay were losing by one and, with City losing meant it was still Cambridge in the play offs. Just as Torquay's result came through though, City got the minimum they deserved from a cracking encounter. Lurking beyond the back post, Moxey found the ball bouncing towards him. He cracked a first time effort towards goal and as it struck a defender the ball, seemingly in slow motion, looped towards the far post. It eventually nestled in the corner of the net to complete a exceptional game. The delirium of equalising was met with the realisation this single moment ensured that it would be a Devon Derby play off.
Match day report by Kirstie Bowden.
A couple of days before our trip to Burton, I suggested to Mike that this trip would be "a relaxing match before the play-off stress kicks in". How wrong could I have been?! Tiz summed the match up perfectly, saying "It was just a bizarre day. I just don't know what to say". The madness started as soon as we arrived inside the ground, confronted by scenes of the beach, sorry, pitch being watered, hopefully with miracle grow. Needless to say, the first chant of the day was "We've got more grass than you". Neil Saunders warming up caused mass confusion, as did long-term absentees Lee Elam and Bertie Cozic getting starts.
The first half was relatively straight forward; we scored, they equalised. The second half started relatively calmly as Stansfield scored early on to take the score to 2-1. It stayed this way until Burton equalised in the 70th minute, instigating a lengthy break in play as the Burton scorer Matt Williams was treated for a head injury. This seemed to inspire Burton, who all of a sudden were 4-2 up. With 10 minutes to go the game looked a lost cause but then, in the 87th minute George Friend scored. Being one of my favourites, it came as no surprise to me that during the goal celebration I incurred slight injury! Deep within the 7 minutes of injury time, the way the game had progressed thus far meant that the only real ending would be an Exeter equaliser. This was provided by a deflected Dean Moxey shot which I still can't believe ended up in the back of the net. Everyone, particularly Cheggers, went mental!
After the final whistle as the stadium announcer informed us that we would be meeting Torquay in the play-offs, chants of 'Bring on the Torquay' drowned out his attempts to commence their end of season awards. Back on the bus we discussed Paul Buckle. Said discussion cannot be repeated. We also discussed our 'strategy' for the away leg. The fine details cannot be discussed for fear of ruining the element of surprise, but includes fishing rods, envelopes and water pistols. Arriving back at Exeter we suggested camping at SJP to get tickets but decided against it, and set off home