2 January 1984
Oxford United (h)
Exeter 3-1 Oxford United
EXETER, forced through injury to field very much a makeshift side, rocked high flying Oxford, League leaders and heroes of that great Milk Cup triumph over Manchester United. Few before this game would have thought that an Exeter team containing their only eight available full professionals, one loan signing, an apprentice and a non-contract player would have inflicted this only Oxford's second defeat in 17 games. But tenacity and a non-stop toiling performance made Exeter worthy winners of this stamina-sapping battle in the mud and in the teeth of a howling gale.
The victory only Exeter's third at home this season saved City's holiday programme from being a disaster, boosted their League position, but most of all was a shot in the arm to their confidence. And there is no doubt Exeter thoroughly deserved their win. They battled tremendously to contain Oxford in the first half and then their driving spirit meant they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half. All the goals came in that all action second period and in fact Exeter had a couple of chances to have added to their winning margin.
Exeter got off the mark in the 56th minute as Graeme Kirkup chipped a ball into the area, Steve Neville was fouled by David Grant and referee Ron Milford pointed to the spot. City's penalty king Stan McEwan drove the ball home his fourth goal from penalties this season. But only three minutes later Oxford were back on terms. Neil Whatmore set up the chance on the right and Gary Barnett chose his spot carefully and rifled in the equaliser. A few minutes later Exeter very nearly went back in front as Ray Pratt pounced on a bad pass back. It looked as if he must Score but somehow Malcolm Shotton got back in time and scrambled the ball off the line. In the 76th minute Martin Ling fed a superb through ball for Neville but his shot was beaten out by 'keeper Steve Hardwick. The ball only went as far as midfieldman Mark O'Connor and he chipped a perfect shot into the net. Oxford pulled out all the stops in a late bid to get back on terms but Exeter defended supremely well. With only three minutes to go they sewed up the match as McEwan sent Neville away with a ball out of defence. Neville ran more than half the length of the pitch outstripping everyone and then calmly rounded Hardwick to score. In the first half Exeter's goal had something of a charmed life although Oxford did not look quite as dangerous as their lofty League position suggested. Oxford in fact got off to a bad start when they lost Andy Thomas with a leg injury. He was taken to hospital for X-rays for a suspected fracture. The game was less than a minute old when Thomas came racing in to pick up a deep centre from Paul Hinshelwood and slide the ball into the net. But not only was it disallowed for offside but Thomas collided with Len Bond and had to be stretchered off. Exeter were rarely in attacking action in this first period but they threatened a couple of times mainly through telling crosses by O'Connor. The closest Oxford came to scoring before the interval was when Shotton struck close a range shot against an upright.