20 January 2007.
Gravesend and Northfleet
THE VIEWS OF JIM SHEPARD
Satuday 20th January 2007
Exeter City 1
Gravesend & Northfleet 3
n an initially bright and sunny afternoon at St. James' Park, in front of a healthy 3,287, City's playoff challenge suffered a setback as they were beaten by 3-1 Gravesend and Northfleet. City were the architects of their own downfall as two calamitous defensive errors either side of a stunning volley from Luke Moore gave Gravesend a 3-0 halftime lead and City their second home league reverse of the season.
The initial exchanges were fairly even as both sides tried to come to terms with the heavy pitch. On 8 minutes though, City nearly took the lead. A shirt pull on Mackie was penalised on the edge of the area. Billy Jones floated the free kick to Challinor on the far side of area who controlled and fired goalwards only to see his effort cannon off the far post across the goal and be hacked to safety by a scrambling defender. Gravesend then had a similar chance after a foul by Todd but Rice managed to save and gather at his near post.
As City got into their stride they began to push Gravesend back and a series inswinging corners from Billy Jones resulted in two blocked efforts from Carlisle and a third from Jones saved at the near post by Cronin in the Gravesend goal. A further free kick near the left hand byline was then wastefully overhit by Carlisle as City began to pressure the Gravesend flanks.
But on 18 minutes disaster struck and Gravesend found themselves 1 up. Rice received a routine back pass but as he took a touch to set himself to clear, was closed down by Moore. The ball fell kindly for the striker as he blocked and with defenders coming back to cover he slid a sideways ball to Charlie MacDonald who fired in from the edge of the area.
Up to this point City had not really been troubled and it was against this background that Gravesend took a 2-0 lead just before the half hour. A cross from the right was headed out by Todd towards the corner of the 18 yard area. It dropped onto the chest of Moore who then lashed a volley back with a considerable amount of power and interest into the far corner. City clearly seemed rattled by this turn of events and soon could have been three down. Todd managed a great recovery tackle as a forward bore down on Rice's goal, but then Todd and Rice both seemed to leave the loose ball to each other and another chance was lashed wide when a bit of composure was needed.
City's attacks had become sporadic the most noteworthy being a Phillips effort snuffed out at source after a long crossfield ball from Tully. But as the half moved toward the last five minutes Gravesend put a stranglehold on the game they would never relinquish.
First, a cleared corner was floated back to the far post where a header was clutched just inside the post by Rice. Todd played another routine ball back to the keeper, and probably with his first clearance in mind set to clear first time. However, Rice took his eye off the ball and sliced it wildly. As Edwards and MacDonald battled to reach the ball on the edge of the box, Gravesend's top scorer managed to force the ball goalwards and inside the post.
A stunned crowd could not quite believe what was happening as the first half drew to a close, the darkness of events almost matched by the clouds winging their way towards the Park from behind the Old Grandstand. Surely City would have to come out all guns blazing in the second half if they were to get anything from the game.
As "Let me Entertain You" was played over the PA the teams emerged unchanged and City began with more purpose and urgency. A Jones corner was cleared to Gill who unleashed a rocket from 30 yards acrobatically tipped over by Cronin. A Jones cross into Mackie was knocked back to Phillips but his shot was blocked.
Similarly a cross from Tully just eluded Todd but fell to Mackie just beyond the far post. As he controlled on his chest when a header may have been a better option a defender slid back in to clear. From Carlisle's resulting corner the ball flew to Phillips lurking at the far post. As he stuck out his foot it seemed inexplicable that he could miss but City's woe continued as the ball flew inches wide.
City's good work in the first part of the half brought no reward and as Gravesend sat back most of the play was in the attacking third but eagerness turned to frustration at times and Tully was booked after first upsetting Gravesend defenders with a push, and then a mistimed tackle.
An Edwards header from a long free kick was then easily caught by the keeper and a neat interchange between Cozic, Tully and Phillips led to a Mackie shot. As the midway point passed City made the first substitution of the afternoon as Todd made way for Stansfield. After an initial misunderstanding over the identity of the departing player City switched to a 3-4-3 formation, playing Mackie and Phillips wider.
Stansfield was soon unfortunate not to control a long ball from the back and then had a headed goal from a Challinor cross disallowed for offside. MacDonald, still returning from injury then made way for the pacy Sodje and Moxey replaced Mackie as City tried to press but were also aware of being caught at the back. A clearance from another Jones corner lead to a blocked shot at the other end, but any concerted City pressure was being regularly released by a succession of offside decisions. But with seven minutes remaining City got a reward for their endeavours
in the second half. Challinor picked up the ball on the left. As he tried to spread play across the pitch his pass was blocked, but fell to Phillips who laid the ball off to Challinor who had continued his run. As he ran goalwards he fired a 25 yard effort along the floor which despite getting fingers to Cronin was unable to prevent nestling in the corner.
Moments later Phillips was pulled back as he looked to control near the area. A bout of handbags ensued for a couple of moments as the referee booked the transgressor and the resulting free kick was scrambled away to Sodje whose run ended in a corner from a Rice save.
Five minutes of uneventful added time followed with Gravesend playing out time and City trying to be purposeful when they could. As the final whistle sounded the discontent amongst some sections of support could be heard as City slipped away from the play off picture.
Exeter City 1
Gravesend and Northfleet 3.
20 January 2007.
Exeter: Rice, Tully, Todd (Stansfield 68), Edwards, Billy Jones, Carlisle, Gill, Cozic, Challinor, Phillips, Mackie (Moxey 75).
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Richardson, Elam.
Goals: Challinor 84.
Gravesend: Cronin, Ross Smith, McCarthy, Hawkins, Slatter (Ricketts 58), DeBolla (Coleman 77), Long, Quinn, Opinel, MacDonald (Sodje 73), Moore.
Subs Not Used: Mott, Ledgister.
Booked: McCarthy, Opinel.
Goals: MacDonald 18, Moore 29, MacDonald 41.
Referee A Hendley (West Midlands