Match 23
25 November 2003.
Shrewsbury (h)

Super City Triumph in Promotion Showdown

Exeter City 3 Shrewsbury 2.
Tuesday 25 November 2003.

Match Report by Matt Bamsey 

EXETER City survived a torrential downpour and a late goal scare to win the battle of the promotion chasers in a five-goal thriller at St James's Park.

James Coppinger, Barry McConnell and Sean Devine were all on target as the Grecians maintained their unbeaten home record and gave their ecstatic fans a night to remember. The win sees City leapfrog their former league counter-parts, hoisting them up to fourth in the league - just three points from the summit. However, it was the manner in which they dismantled a team who entered the game oozing confidence on the back of a 4-1 win over Hereford United at the weekend, which sparked a wave of euphoria. This was a match nicely poised to pass judgement on the respective credentials of two teams desperately hunting promotion back into the Football League. And the manner in which the transfer embargoed Grecians swept away a side that has flexed the chequebook in a bid to reclaim league status said everything about team spirit and club morale at St James's Park. It proved that financial gulfs are merely obstacles to be overcome. One of City's most pleasing qualities this campaign has been their ability to bounce back from setbacks. The failure to put Leigh RMI to the sword had raised more question marks over their ability to conquer the Conference's lesser lights. For City, though, there can be no doubt cast over their knack of giving the big boys a footballing lesson. First Chester City, who still haven't been beaten since their visit to the Park, and now in-form Shrewsbury Town have become victims as the fortress St James's Park stiffens its de fence. And this was a victory that will send out yet another unmistakable signal that City really mean do business this season. No surprise, then, that their fortunes have raised a few eyebrows. First Darlington launch a cheeky attempt to lure James Coppinger back up North, then we hear news that a scout from Burnley was last night running the rule over Dwane Lee. And the superlatives would have been flowing in his match notes as the midfielder produced a sublime display to underline what a shrewd signing he has turned out to be. But forgetting about transfer speculation this was a fine advertisement for Conference Football. Exeter came bursting out of the traps with Coppinger showing explosive pace to win an early corner. The resulting de- livery bobbled out to McConnell whose looping header just evaded the lurking Devine. Gareth Sheldon was next to pose a threat when he launched a stinging drive that was smothered by Town keeper Scott Howie. The lashing rain was fast playing havoc and the game threatened to descend into a scrappy affair, devoid of creativity and entertainment value. But those fears were swiftly crushed as both sides defied the conditions to produce an enthralling encounter. Shrewsbury, content on dis- rupting the Grecians' stride in the early stages, almost grabbed a fortuitous opener when Colin Cramb's dipping cross looked to be heading towards the top corner until Bittner flicked out a hand to claw the effort away. More pressure followed when Howie thumped a huge hoist up field. The airborne clearance forced Santos Gaia and Chris Todd - their partnership has proved the cornerstone of City's defence this season into a near fatal mix-up. Eventually Todd's attempted headed back pass fell short and Cramb stole in to stab a weak shot wide when the former Bury striker should have done better. Eamonn Dolan had warned his defensive duo ahead of the match of the abundance of forward riches at Town's disposal following a couple of recent swoops. But for the rest of the half the only treasure being dis tributed was by Dolan's men whose touch in front of goal sparked a gold run. Devine almost settled the nerves with a header that whizzed past the post and then as the rain decided to pelt down a little harder, spirits were given an almighty lift as City snatched the lead. Gareth Sheldon, the architect of City's early forays, sent in a delicious cross at the second attempt and Coppinger arrived at the back post to plant a free header into the back of the net. It was no more than they deserved and the goal clearly inspired a City side intent on reaping further rewards. Devine created some space and watched in frustration as his blistering drive shaved the base of the post and cannoned to safety. City were then cruelly denied after Jamie Tolley sliced a clearance past Howie as Devine went to pull the trigger. City players wheeled away in delight but their celebrations were cut short as the linesman flagged for an offside. The pressure was unrelenting and the passion tangible. City were gunning for their 11th win of the campaign and nothing was going to derail their prolific home form. Lee tried his luck with a 25-yard free-kick that drifted high and wide and Sheldon blasted over the bar. City snatched a second on the stroke of half-time when Sheldon's corner was cleared right into the path of McConnell. The midfielder composed himself before lashing a low drive that nestled into the bottom corner. Far from resting on their laurels, City had clearly been cajoled into seeking more goals to make sure of the priceless three points and in the opening seconds of the second half Gaia almost latched onto Alex Jeannin's corner. The Shrews, who must have been read the riot act at the interval, created a golden opportunity, but Cramb was again off target having pounced on a loose back pass. Once again the Grecians were chasing every ball, putting their visitors under intense pressure every time they gained possession. That appetite for the fight was perfectly illustrated by the boundless energy of Gaia who capped his new two-year contract with another vintage performance at the heart of the defence. However, the Brazilian and his Welsh partner Todd had to be on their guard after Town boss Jimmy Quinn unleashed his prized striker, Luke Rodgers, to form a three-pronged attacking formation alongside Cramb and Duane Darby. And it was Rodgers who threw the visitors a lifeline with a thunderous effort that crashed into the roof of the net, giving the keeper no chance. While the visiting supporters celebrated the strike, home fans questioned whether the striker should have been on the pitch. He had already been booked minutes after entering the fray for a rash challenge on Jeannin. Then he repeated the same dose on Lee, but referee Keith Stroud lost his bottle and gave him a stern talking to instead. Lee produced the cross of the night which found three City players in the clear, all of whom were lining up to apply the finishing touch, but Gaia's header fizzed wide. City hearts continued to flutter and Kevin Street fired in a low missile that was grasped by Bittner at the second attempt.
"Twelve points and you're staying down," chanted the away fans, wallowing in City's misfortune this season. But their howls on derision were soon silenced as Coppinger skipped down the right channel teasing Tinson into tripping him in the penalty box. Devine, who missed a penalty against the Shrews last season, made no mistake this time as he blasted his spot kick under Howie to create some daylight between the sides. Town launched a late surge of pressure in search of a share of the spoils. Rodgers broke clear, threaded a ball to Cramb who pulled back for Kevin Street whose shot skewed wide. The gripping finale saw Coppinger smash the base of the post after springing the off side trap while Street rattled an up- right at the other end. With seconds remaining, Town bagged a late goal through Cramb, but there was no time to mount a great escape and City held on for a priceless victory.

BBC Match summary and information 

Exeter moved up to fourth in the table with victory over promotion rivals Shrewsbury at St James Park.

The home side opened the scoring in the 29th minute through a James Coppinger header, and Barry McConnell then fired in the second from 25 yards. Luke Rodgers pulled a goal back for Shrewsbury in the 65th minute before Sean Devine restored Exeter's two-goal lead from the penalty spot. Colin Cramb got a consolation for the visitors in injury-time.

Exeter: Bittner, Hiley, Gaia, Todd, Jeannin, McConnell, Lee, Cronin, Sheldon, Devine, Coppinger. Subs: Rice, Flack, Ampadu, Afful, Taylor.

Shrewsbury: Howie, Moss, Tinson, Ridler, Potter, Lowe, Jamie Tolley, O'Connor, Street, Cramb, Darby. Subs: Parker, Quinn, Rodgers, Rioch, Sedgemore.

Referee: K Stroud (Dorset)

Exeter City 3
Coppinger 29, McConnell 45, Devine pen 77

Shrewsbury 2
Rodgers 65, Cramb 90

Attendance 3470



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