27th August 1988
Wrong Cooper makes news
EXETER CITY 0
Report by Trina Lake
A MAN named Cooper hit the headlines at St James's Park on Saturday when the new football season kicked off. But sadly for Exeter City's expectant supporters it wasn't their new manager, Terry, or even midfielder Richard. It was Wrexham's Graham Cooper who stole the show with a debut goal that set Wrexham on their way to victory. He put the skids under City with a soft strike after just three minutes. All of City's pre-season composure and confidence then disappeared and despite dominating the second half, they finally fell to a 71st minute killer blow from the impressive Kevin Russell. "We just never played," complained Cooper the manager. "Everything we worked on in pre-season when we looked a useful side went out of the window today. The early goal didn't help us but instead of sticking to the pattern we have been playing to, people started to panic and run all over the place. He was particularly disappointed at the quality of crosses when City did get into good positions. "I counted at least six great opportunities but we duffed the cross. If we get into a good position at least we should try to pick somebody out." But the City boss was philosophical about his new side's dismal opening day performance and reminded everybody: "It's not where you start, it's where you finish." Wrexham, favourites with the bookies for promotion from Division 4, could hardly have wished to get their season going any better. The goal that laid the foundation for a well-earned win was controversial to say the least. City's cavalry charge at a Neil Salathiel free-kick looked to have caught Graham Cooper yards off side but Chris Banks, making his competitive debut at right-back for City, may just have hesitated long enough to play the Wrexham striker on. There was no whistle and Cooper, a £5,000 summer signing from Huddersfield, clinically beat the advancing Mel Gwinnett to make it 1-0 while City waited in vain for a linesman's flag. Wrexham capitalised on that early advantage and their pacy attacks had City's shaky defence in all sorts of problems as they swept through unchecked. Front men Cooper, Russell, and Ollie Kearns, with full-back Salathiel overlapping in true Terry Cooper style on the right, combined to make the first half decidely uncomfortable for the City back four. They had Gwinnett punching, smothering, and diving around with a host of promising breaks while City's tame response rarely brought Wrex- ham 'keeper Mike Salmon into the action. Big Shaun Taylor won a few things at set pieces but there were precious few telling passes into the Wrexham penalty area for danger men Steve Neville co-striker Tommy Langley to feed on. The second half looked much more promising with City bucking up their ideas and using width to greater advantage. The bustling Langley just failed to connect with two useful crosses from Neville and the disappointing Steve Harrower around the 50 minute mark and midfield anchor man Richard Cooper flashed a shot over the bar as City showed more enterprise and appetite. But Salmon still wasn't seriously tested until the 68th minute when Langley nodded down a Harrower cross perfectly for Neville whose near post blast was beaten out for a corner by the Wrexham 'keeper. Wrexham manager Dixie McNeil, the former City striker, recognising that speed on the break might be the key to further success, replaced Kearns with the nippy Steve Buxton after 70 minutes and was rewarded for the change within a minute. It wasn't Buxton who did the damage but Russell, always a handful for central defender Lee Rogers. The Welsh side's 21-goal top scorer from last season outstripped the thin City cover in the chase for a through pass from John Bowden and as Gwinnett avanced he rolled the ball into the unguarded net from 20 yards. After Scott Hiley had blasted a 75-minute free kick wide City made a switch of their own. Banks came off, Harrower dropped to full-back, and Jamie Harris joined Langley and Neville up front. City had a few half chances to reduce the arrears in the last 15 minutes as Wrexham were content to sit back and try to hit Russell on the break. The closest we got to a City goal was two minutes from time when the ball pinged back and forth across the Wrexham box before Salmon pounced on it at the feet of Langley. City's fans had been prom- ised attacking football and goalmouth incidents but Saturday's match didn't really live up to expectations. The only way is up after that and Cooper, who takes City back to his old club. Bristol City for a Littlewoods' Cup tie next week, said afterwards: "Thank goodness we've got a game on Tuesday, I'd hate to wait a week without a chance to sort this out."
Exeter City: Gwinnett, Banks (Har- ris 77), Viney, Rogers, Taylor, Cooper, Rowbottom, Hiley, Langley, Neville, Harrower Sub (not used): Small.
Wrexham: Salmon Salathiel, Wright Bowden, Beaumont, Jones, Preece, Thackeray (Flynn 15. Kearns (Buxton 70), Russell, Cooper.