Match 30
6th January 2001.
Hartlepool (a)

"Pool of despair! Pressure mounts on Blake as City crash to yet another away loss

CITY REPORT by Echo Reporter.

A WONDER strike and a hotly-contested penalty condemned Exeter City to their ninth consecutive away defeat at Hartlepool.

Under-pressure Grecians chief Noel Blake may have played out of his skin only 10 days before celebrating his 39th birthday. He can also take some comfort from a defensive display vastly superior to last week's 6-1 whipping at Cardiff. But still the statistics keep mounting up. Exeter have taken seven points from a possible 51, won once in 19 contests, scored two goals in eight outings and gone 14 games without a clean sheet. Rock bottom Carlisle, who battled to a creditable 1-0 FA Cup defeat at the hands of mighty Arsenal, now have four games in hand with which to bridge their six-point gap to Exeter. At least City's cruel run of away fixtures the Grecians have ap- peared just twice at St James's Park in almost two months - has now come to a merciful end. And with two home games in four days looming large on the horizon, Blake and his men must rapidly start posting points on the board. Appropriately enough after a match bizarrely sponsored by rock dinosaurs AC/DC, they will otherwise find themselves hurtling towards the Nationwide Conference on a Highway to Hell. After keeping Hartlepool at bay with relative ease in the opening period, City succumbed to two goals in 19 minutes from rising star Tommy Miller. Miller waited just 16 seconds of the second period before crashing the ball past Arjan Van Heusden from fully 25 yards.
After John Cornforth's innocent- looking tug on Mark Tinkler was deemed worthy of a penalty, the 21- year-old calmly converted his 12th goal of the campaign. And City, who failed to muster a single genuine effort on goal all afternoon, never managed to emerge from their defensive shell. "Obviously that's their ploy," reflected 'Pool boss Chris Turner. "They've been beaten 6-1 at Cardiff and they were determined not to get beaten again." With skipper Chris Curran and targetman Steve Flack still suffering from the after-effects of recent long-term injuries, Blake chose to recall himself and striker Graeme Tomlinson. And it was the City boss who prevented the home side from drawing early blood with a diving header to clear a dangerous Paul Stephenson cross and a brave block from Miller. Jamie Campbell needed to be alert when Miller's neat back-heel gave Craig Midgley a fleeting sight of goal. But the Grecians largely stifled their hosts on a post-Christmas pudding of a pitch. And with two minutes remaining of the first half, they were gifted what proved to be their only serious chance of the entire contest. James Sharp's under-hit back- pass appeared to have let in Tomlinson, but the former Manchester United prospect was just beaten to the ball by 'Pool goalkeeper Anthony Williams. And City's dogged resistance fi- nally came to an end in spectacular style straight from the restart as Miller flicked the ball up and let fly with a looping volley that whistled into the top corner. Hartlepool frontman Kevin Henderson's header then shaved the outside of a post after his initial effort had been blocked by Blake. And the home side effectively sealed their fourth straight victory when referee Alan Kaye spotted Cornforth's tangle with Tinkler following a Stephenson free-kick. The protests were led by Campbell, who earned himself a booking for his troubles. And despite a lengthy debate over the exact location of the penalty spot, Miller produced an emphatic finish from approximately 12 yards. Only another crucial intervention from Blake then prevented Midgley from piling on Exeter's misery. The Hartlepool striker was again left cursing his luck when his close- range volley cannoned back off the City crossbar. And Miller was presented with a golden chance to complete his hat- trick deep into stoppage time. But Van Heusden - whose handling was immaculate throughout- stuck out a leg to deflect his eight- yard effort onto the foot of an upright.

Match Report 2 

A SECOND half brace from highly rated Hartlepool schemer Tommy Miller con- demned Noel Blake's strugglers to a seventh consecutive away defeat. Unenterprising Exeter failed to create a single opening in the 90 minutes but had battled gamely to keep the scoreline goalless at the interval. Both teams had recorded 6-1 results in their last outing - Pool hammering Barnet at Victoria Park and the Grecians on the wrong end of a similar drubbing at promotion chasing Cardiff City on New Year's Day. The North-Easterners predictably applied the early pressure with Exeter player-manager Blake heading Paul Stephenson's dangerous cross for a corner and then deflecting Miller's 16-yard shot wide. The opening 20 minutes however had been scrappy with neither goalkeeper tested and the Grecians yet to figure as an attacking force. Only a timely intervention from Jamie Campbell then prevented Pool striker Craig Midgley from latching onto Miller's clever back heel. In a rare Exeter break, Paul Buckle almost got on the end of Campbell's through ball but United 'keeper Anthony Robinson advanced to gather at the far edge of the box. There was little to enthuse a 3,000 strong home crowd though Exeter's player-coach John Cornforth earned the game's first booking on 33 minutes for a trip on former Newcastle winger Paul Stephenson. Hartlepool should have taken an interval lead when full back Paul Arnison wasted a great chance from seven yards. Neil Whitworth headed clear Stephenson's corner but when Ian Clarke returned the ball into the box the unmarked Arnison sent a diving header inches past the post. Robinson then had to race out of his box to hastily block at the feet of Graeme Tomlinson following an under-hit James Sharp backpass. Disaster however struck just 16 seconds into the second period when Miller picked up a loose ball to smash a superb 20-yard volley into the net off the underside of the bar. Top scorer Kevin Henderson then had a goalbound shot blocked by Blake and from Midgley's resultant cross the nine-goal striker powered a header just wide. Exeter were now on the rack and Pool were on their way to a fifth consecutive home win when they were awarded a disputed 65th minute penalty. Cornforth was judged to have held Mark Tinkler on the edge of the six yard box and Miller duly drove home the spot kick. With Steve Flack already on the pitch as a second half substitute Jon Ashton and Cornforth were immediately replaced as struggling City attempted to stem the tide of home attacks. The Grecians had never threatened the Hartlepool goal and Van Heusden was in action again when he comfortably held onto a Midgley header. Blake was certainly not throwing in the towel and after clearing from just in front of the line he produced a crucial block to prevent Midgley from adding to the lead. The unmarked Midgley then volleyed against the bar from close in following a Tinkler left side cross as Exeter's defence crumbled. Miller almost clinched his hat-trick in injury time but his close range shot from Henderson's flick-on was turned onto the post by the overworked Van Heusden.

Exeter City 
VanHeusden. Whitworth. Ampadu. Ashton. Campbell. Blake. Buckle. Cornforth. Roscoe. Tomlinson. Read. Substitutes: Flack (for Tomlinson, 64), Holloway (for Cornforth, 66) Rawlinson (for Ashton, 66). Not used: Speakman, Fraser.

Williams, Arnison, Barron, Westwood, Sharp, Clark (Shilton 66), Tinkler, Stephenson, Miller, Midgley, Henderson. Subs not used: Hollund (gk), Lormor, Sperre- vik, Fitzpatrick.

Scorers: Hartlepool -Miller, 46, 65 (pen)

Bookings: Exeter- Cornforth 33, Roscoe 48, Ashton 65.

Referee: Alan Kaye (Wakefield)

Attendance: 3,016.

Star Man: Noel Blake, led defiantly throughout


Paul F



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