16 September 2006
Gravesend and Northfleet (a)
ON THE ROAD:
THE VIEWS OF JIM TUCKER
Saturday 16th September 2006:
Gravesend & Northfleet 2
Exeter City 2
This was a special week, four days after the Oxford game and we are off to Gravesend, an hour and a bit round the M25. Stonebridge Road is in Northfleet rather than Gravesend, a solidly industrial area, and the ground is somewhat rundown. But the locals are friendly and we get a good welcome at the gate.
The afternoon was warm if misty, about 300 City fans behind the goal. It's completely in the open there, which gives a fine view, but makes an atmosphere difficult. We arrived only just in time, because of road works, to find that Chris Todd was playing despite his injury at Oxford, that Stansfield had been replaced by Jamie Mackie and Andy Taylor was in for Dean Moxey.
Fresh from an excellent win over the mighty Grays, the home team wasted no time in demonstrating their pacy attacking play down the wings. But in truth neither side got any coherent movement going early doors, the heads of Rob Edwards and then Billy Jones cutting out successive Gravesend crosses. In the customary rather subdued atmosphere, City were coping at the back without getting going up front. Gradually we got into the game, Cozic getting in a cross, and Jon Challinor winning a corner when fed by Jones. Then Lee Phillips did the same, and from Jones effort after 18 minutes or so came what I had been waiting for all season - GOAL!!! Rob Edwards met the right-hand dead ball kick early and sent a delicious header past the keeper and into the far corner for 1-0.
City had settled now alright, and played with added confidence. Taylor almost set Phillips up after Mackie had been brought down wide on the left. But this was a different City from what had seen in earlier games, plenty of people getting forward and stroking the ball around. Challinor and Jones were linking well, Gill and Taylor were involved, and although Gravesend had their share of the play, they created no real chances. And after about 40 minutes, a move involving Woodards and Gill ended with Taylor crossing high from the right and the ball going in at the far post again, this time off a defender, with Phillips lurking dangerously. 2-0!
It was a stroll to half-time now, with just time for Martin Rice to pull off one decent save. A satisfying first 45, not world beating but plenty of organised purposeful teamwork, just what the doctor ordered.
So the second half would bring a new challenge, at least for the first time this season, to hold on to a decent early lead. The home side immediately brought on two substitutes, one of them Onome Sodje, a member of that illustrious footballing family. There was an early scramble in City goalmouth, before the ball went wide, then the first action in front of the travelling fans, as a flowing move involving Bertie Cozic and Mackie put Challinor in on goal, only for an offside flag to be waved. That was probably correct, although a number of petty decisions were to upset City players and supporters alike as the half wore on.
The free-flowing play continued from the City, Cozic and Mackie in good form, Jones putting in good crosses from corners, but that clear cut chance for a third never quite happened. Jamie Mackie seemed to strike fear in the home defence when he got the ball, yet Lee Phillips was strangely quiet. And after 56 minutes that man Sodje reduced the lead, heading home from a free kick on the left. It was nearly 3-1 from the re-start, Andy Taylor ran in at an angle from the right and shot agonisingly past the far post.
But it was the home side who were now having more of the play, MacDonald and Sodje combining to put the City defence under pressure. We still broke plenty of times, Woodards often involved, but we gradually lost the power to penetrate the Gravesend defence, a situation often not helped by the officials' questionable control. Adam Stansfield came on, with Jamie Mackie giving way again unluckily, I thought and Taylor put in a good cross that Stansfield's head met strongly but to no avail.
And then, from a corner, the home centre half found space to head home an equaliser, and the game was now wide open. Dean Moxey immediately replaced Challinor, who had been quieter this half. Stansfield was involved in most good stuff up front, and the City defence didn't open up again. Only in stoppage time did a winner look likely, when Sodje got clear, only for Martin Rice to deny him with the save of the match. 2-2 it stayed.
This is a hard one to call. We attacked well, and as a team, although much more effectively in the first half. The defence controlled the home attack for long periods, yet opened up twice at set pieces. Gravesend are clearly a much-improved side, so a draw there is a good result, but City ought to have killed this game off. Rice was dependable, Edwards the bedrock of the defence, and Cozic gets better every game. Why was Phillips so out of touch?
It was pleasing to see home and away fans giving generously to the collection for Matt Gadsby of Hinckley United, who had died on the pitch in a Conference North game the Saturday before, and paying a fitting tribute to the player with an impeccably observed silence. The proper perspective it brought to the proceedings was most welcome.
Gravesend and Northfleet 2
Exeter City 2.
Saturday 16 September 2006.
Gravesend: Cronin, Ricketts, James Smith, Ross Smith, Hawkins, Coleman (Slatter 46), Quinn, DeBolla, Keeling, Moore (Sodje 46), MacDonald.
Subs Not Used: Ekoku, Purcell, Mott.
Booked: Moore, Coleman, DeBolla.
Goals: Sodje 56, Ross Smith 78.
Exeter: Rice, Woodards, Todd, Edwards, Billy Jones, Taylor, Cozic, Gill, Challinor (Moxey 80), Phillips, Mackie (Stansfield 71).
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Richardson, Buckle.
Goals: Edwards 19, James Smith 40 og.
Referee K Yeo (Essex).