28 April 2007.
THE VIEWS OF ANTONY MOXEY
Saturday 28th April 2007
Exeter City 2 Southport 1
On a balmy sunny afternoon City secured their first ever play-off place coming from behind to beat already relegated Southport 2-1 in front of a stand-bursting 6.670 magnificent supporters.
The day began in a party atmosphere with balloons, flags and hats everywhere. The giant flag even made a rare appearance floating round the Big Bank, and with songs ringing out from three sides of the ground the seasons' best crowd was in a celebratory mood.
Even the tribute to former City manager Alan Ball who died so tragically earlier this week was one of celebration of his life rather than of mourning his death, and the minute's applause was both warm and sincere, and, would imagine, given his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for all things football, just how he would have wanted it.
But then it was down to the real business of the day, and as the noise reached a crescendo City kicked off attacking the Big Bank. For the opening exchanges the action was almost exclusively in the Southport half with, it seemed, all 20 outfield players camped around the Southport penalty area.
However the warning signs were there that it wouldn't be as easy as it looked on paper when in the seventh minute it was the visitors who got the first real shot of the game off when a fierce 25 yarder squirmed past the far post. City's first meaningful reply came five minutes later when Stansfield robbed a dawdling defender out on the left touchline
before sprinting in on goal. Expertly he feinted round a defender but as he shaped to shoot a leg stretched out from nowhere to push the ball away to safety.
But it belied a nervousness in City and for much remainder of the half it was difficult to see which team was the of the relegated one and which was the one gunning for the play-offs. It wasn't until the half hour that City had another attack of note, this time leading scorer Billy Jones chancing his arm from fully 30 yards with a good looking drive that was comfortably collected by the goalkeeper.
It was, however, merely papering over the cracks of a disappointing first half, and it came as no surprise really that with five minutes of the half remaining it was Southport who took the lead.
A rather harshly given free kick just outside the box was floated to the far post where it was knocked back in. A couple of City defenders took turns attempting to hack it clear before gangly Southport striker Paul Tait guided the ball out before smartly turning and shooting into the top corner to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
City started the second half in much better fashion, and it was a mere three minutes in when they created their first chance of the half. From the corner of the box Elam shovelled the ball out to Billy Jones hugging the left touchline. He in turn whipped in a firmly struck cross that Carlisle met superbly but only succeeded in guiding straight to the keeper.
On the quarter hour, after a period of scrappy play, City got their next opportunities with quickfire Elam and Logan shots both being blocked at source, but Tisdale needed to turn things around before the crowd got too restless so the out of sorts Logan was replaced by Phillips a minute later. After 20 minutes Stansfield almost equalised when a corner was pulled back to him lurking around the edge of the box, unfortunately he drilled his shot agonisingly the wrong side of the post. Two minutes later came the moment that changed the game with one of the bravest substitutions of the season.
A clearly unhappy at the decision Todd was sacrificed with Challinor being introduced up front as Tisdale opted for three at the back with an extra attacker joining the pre-season dream pairing of Phillips and Stansfield.
And boy did it ever work! Moments later a ball from deep was nodded on by Challinor for Stansfield to chase. Dinking past a defender across the edge of the box, Stansfield spotted his opportunity and firmly drilled the ball left footed back from where it came past the keeper's desperate lunge and low into the bottom corner.
We were back in at 1-1 and the place erupted from the
sombre mood that was beginning to descend on the ground
despite several attempts to keep spirits up.
Two minutes later the place went from joy, relief and happiness to absolutely bonkers when good work from Phillips set up Taylor to crash a ferocious piledriver low towards the corner that the keeper did well to palm on to the post. He didn't reckon on Stansfield staying sharp as a pin to follow up and smash home his second in as many minutes from a tight angle to turn the game around to 2-1 with three sides of the ground celebrating wildly.
There was no real way back for Southport now, and with the play-offs now back in their own hands, Tisdale made the wise move of bolstering the defence with the introduction of Richardson at the expense of tricky winger Elam with the just the final quarter of an hour to go.
Funnily enough it spurred City on to attack even more, with the electric Stansfield on fire and in search of his first City hat trick. On 35 minutes his shot on the break was well saved after being forced wide, and then almost immediately laid off a delicious ball to Challinor whose vicious 25 yarder was deflected over for a corner. From that corner it was Stansfield who rose highest glancing a neat header narrowly wide of the far post.
His purple patch continued and five minutes later a massive Rice punt down the pitch found Stansfield tussling with a couple of defenders on the edge of the box. Between them they managed to put enough pressure on Stansfield such that he could do no better than crashing over from 20 yards.
With the board now showing three minutes of stoppage time, City were on the rampage. Taylor invited Challinor to scamper down the left wing with the intention of keeping it in the corner, but with no defenders in attendance, he turned and strode into the box with authority. Hugging the goal line, he got to the edge of the six yard box before smashing the most outrageous thunderbolt out around the keeper and back off the far post from a mathematically impossibly tight angle. The rebound eventually found Stansfield on the edge of the box where his venomous strike was spilled by the keeper.
A three way fight for the ball then ensued between Stansfield following up, Challinor rushing in and the keeper doing his best not to get steamrollered into the back of his own net where the ball squirmed out to Phillips who, from a tight angle with the keeper partially recovered, hit the same post as Challinor had seconds earlier.
The remaining two minutes seemed like two years, and with Southport chancing their luck with the odd break here and there, nerves were jangling. A touch here, slightly misplaced pass there and all the while the shrill of 6000 whistles grew ever more desperate as still the ref wouldn't end the game.
Eventually though he signalled the start of the celebrations as for the first time in their history City were in the play-offs, The players lapped up the applause, and it was fully ten minutes after the final whistle that people finally began to head for the exits. The Park was a good place to be at five to five this afternoon.
Exeter City 2 Southport 1.
Saturday 28 April 2007.
Referee: Gavin Ward
BBC Match report –
Exeter secured a play-off tie against Oxford United with victory over relegated Southport.
Paul Tait had given Southport the lead shortly before half-time with a powerful strike from 20 yards.
But Adam Stansfield restored parity with a left-foot strike after collecting Jon Challinor's pass.
Andrew Taylor went close for the Grecians before supplying a pass that Stansfield converted for the winner after 71 minutes.
Exeter: Rice, Tully, Todd (Challinor 66), Edwards, Billy Jones, Elam (Richardson 74), Taylor, Gill, Carlisle, Stansfield, Logan (Phillips 60).
Subs Not Used: Paul Jones, Buckle.
Goals: Stansfield 68, 71.
Southport: Terry Smith, Birch, Lee (Paterson 82), Rowland, Blakeman, Baker, Boyd, Holland, Duffy (Newby 74), Gray, Tait.
Subs Not Used: Harrison, Hocking, Houghton.
Goals: Tait 40.
Ref: G Ward (Kent).