23 September 2006.
Stevenage Borough (h)
THE VIEWS OF ANTONY MOXEY
Saturday 23rd September 2006
Exeter City 1 Stevenage Borough 1
So City manage to salvage a point from the jaws of defeat with a 1-1 draw against a strong Stevenage side on a gloriously sunny afternoon at the Park in front of a much more respectable 3,194 fans.
The day started badly with Tisdale having to reshuffle his pack with both Cozic and Todd failing recover from hamstring and hip injuries respectively, so Rico and Buckle were drafted instead. However, the injury depleted team were not going to let that affect them, and immediately set about the Stevenage rearguard. Stevenage survived the early pressure though, and the game settled down to one of thrust and parry, stroke and counter- stroke as both teams struggled to get a hold of midfield and with both defences seemingly having the measure of their opposing attacks.
Eventually Stevenage had their first real chance in the twenty fifth minute when a knockdown somewhere near the penalty spot found a striker loitering on the eighteen yard line. His sliced effort looped goalwards and Rice was relieved to see it bounce back from the angle of post and bar.
The teams continued to size each other up and cancel each other out in an absorbing half, but the final piece of action of the half saw Stevenage on the attack. With Edwards missing a challenge the attacker was clean through on goal, but whilst he dallied in front Rice desperately trying to stay big, Richardson managed to recover sufficiently to make a quite outstanding perfectly timed lunging challenge two yards inside the penalty area.
Plenty to look forward to in the second half then, and once. again City were the sharper from the outset. Two minutes in and a Taylor corner was only cleared as far as Gill patrolling 25 yards out. Intelligently he played the ball back to Taylor who hoisted the ball to the far post where Rico bravely beat the flapping keeper who got nowhere near the ball but unfortunately also beat the post by a whisker.
Twelve minutes gone and Stevenage were starting to find their rhythm and shape. Cleverly switching play from one side to the other, their attackers led City a merry dance as the ball found itself at the feet of one of their players completely unmarked at Rice's far post yet inexplicably he could do no better than smash it against the crossbar from no more than five yards out.
You'd have thought the defence would have learnt its lesson, but the very next move again saw them all over the place and after a series of attempted or generally miss-hit clearances the ball fell kindly for former England international Steve Guppy who gleefully crashed the ball low across Rice into the far corner for what, on balance of play at the time, was a deserved goal and 1-0 lead.
Immediately Tisdale withdrew Mackie for Stansfield to try and rescue something then five minutes later Taylor made way for Challinor. It had little immediate effect as City were clearly rattled and it was all Stevenage. With half an hour gone a cross from the right was superbly struck towards the top left corner but somehow Rice managed to magnificently fling out a gloved hand and divert the ball behind for a corner. Then it was Danny Clay's turn to try and stem the relentless Stevenage barrage as he made his season's bow at the expense of the tiring Buckle. Now it was City's turn to exert some pressure, and as Stevenage tried to ride out the storm their defending became more and more desperate culminating in a series of niggly fouls outside of the box. With mere minutes remaining one such foul was committed on Moxey fairly central 25 yards out.
Both teams jostled for position as they tried to set themselves up, so whilst all this was going on Billy Jones decided he'd had enough hanging around waiting for them to settle so thought he'd chance his arm with a lob into the mixer to see what happened. Amazingly, with no-one ready, the ball floated towards goal and hit the net just under the angle of post and bar much to the almost embarrassed delight of Jones and horror of the Stevenage team for the most unlikeliest of equalisers.
But who cares how you get them, it's the fact that you're in a position to get them and that you capitalise on the chances put your way that counts. The first half was a very close affair, with neither team gaining control yet neither team prepared to yield an inch either. City may have shaded possession and chances ever so slightly, but it would have been harsh on a good looking and lively Stevenage side if they'd gone in ahead at the break.
In the second half it was a different story with Stevenage dominating massive chunks of possession and City chasing shadows. The substitutions helped restore a bit of energy as the constant chasing obviously had its effect on the players with passes becoming more disjointed and the long hoof upfield the easiest outlet.
Of the players I thought Rice made a couple of quite stunning saves. He does need to work on distribution though, because although it provides a get out ball, the hoofing. clearance isn't always the best way to build an attack. In defence Rico and Edwards by and large kept the centre forwards under control, although they had somewhat contrasting fortunes with Edwards' mistimed challenge letting an attacker through one on one and Rico's wonderfully timed slide recovering the situation.
Again Woodards and Jones got forward as chen as possible, but fortunately for Woodards he had Taylor willing to drop back and cover when he got caught upfield. In the middle Gill again always seemed in control, and when in possession always seemed to have plenty of time to weigh up his options without getting panicked.
Buckle deputised for Cozic well, and up until five minutes before his substitution fought well and broke up many a potential Stevenage attack. It must be said that the boos he received on being substituted were nothing short of scandalous, and shame on those who think that this is the way to encourage our players to do well and try just that little bit harder.
Up front Phillips was again all action, and maybe on another day might well have helped himself to a couple. But he worked hard and didn't give up. Same for Mackie on the commitment and effort, but unfortunately for him it doesn't look as though he could buy a goal at the moment. Nice to see Stansfield and Challinor get some action too, and both looked keen to get stuck in and try and convince Tisdale that they're worthy of a start.
But in the end we surely cannot consider ourselves any less than very lucky today. Stevenage had us under the cosh for huge periods of the game, scored a fine goal and hit the bar twice. They looked a lot better than their league position suggested, and it wouldn't have been entirely unjust had they left with all three points. But they didn't, and if nothing else it at least shows that we have a set of players who aren't prepared to roll over for anyone, and who will keep going right to the very end. The skills you can work on, the attitude is something else.
Exeter City 1 Stevenage Borough 1
23 September 2006.
Exeter: Rice, Woodards, Edwards, Richardson, Billy Jones, Taylor (Challinor 62), Gill, Buckle (Clay 74), Moxey, Mackie (Stansfield 59), Phillips.
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Seaborne.
Goals: Billy Jones 87.
Stevenage: Julian, Fuller, Henry, Gaia, Nutter, Dobson, Beard, Lee, Guppy, Boyd, Morison (Stamp 84).
Subs Not Used: Potter, Oliver, Goodliffe, Deen. Booked: Dobson.
Goals: Guppy 58.
Ref: A Sainsbury (Wiltshire).