10 February 2001.
Macclesfield T (h)
CITY MISS SECOND POST
BY NICK BEER CHIEF FOOTBALL REPORTER
THE thickness of the post left Exeter City rooted to the foot of Division 3 following a forgettable snore draw with visiting Macclesfield. Had an 11th minute strike from makeshift sweeper John Cornforth crept inside the post rather than rebound off the upright, back into the field of play, City could have taken all three points on Saturday. Similarly, had Grecians keeper Arjan van Heusden not pushed Kieron Durkan's shot onto the post late in the second half, Noel Blake's men might not have had anything to show for their afternoon's work. With chief relegation rivals Carlisle not in action and York suffering a 4-0 mauling at Scunthorpe, victory would have elev- ated the Grecians to the dizzy heights of 90th in the league rankings. As it was, the point they collected at St James's Park on Saturday left them neck-and-neck with the Cumbrians at the foot of the table. And after a heartening win over Brighton and brave draw at Mansfield, Noel Blake's men have suddenly strung together a three-match unbeaten run. But against a Macclesfield outfit boasting just three victories from their previous 16 league games, City will surely look back on this game as a missed opportunity. If the Grim Reaper is to be shooed away from St James's Park again this year, it is vital the Grecians squeeze every last point out of their remaining home fixtures. And there was a tangible air of dis- appointment in the Exeter camp following a performance strangely lacking in the urgency shown in recent weeks. Technical assistant Steve Perryman has repeatedly preached the importance of upping the tempo of City's game. "One or two were a little bit leggy today," was the explanation offered by the former Tottenham skipper in the notable absence of team manager Noel Blake. "They know they could have done a little bit better, but it's very difficult to train the players in this weather. "But there is an overall improvement, the confidence is picking up, the discipline is better and the shape of the team looks okay now. "We had injuries, some players were banned and others were a little bit off colour, but we still picked up a point." The groin strain collected by Paul Read midway through the first half handed 17-year-old trainee James Mudge the chance to take his bow in first-class football. With club captain Chris Curran and rearguard colleagues Mark Rawlinson and Graeme Power suspended, Blake and Perryman faced a major selection headache. Their solution was to shoehorn play-maker Cornforth into an unfamiliar Sweeper role while detailing Barry Mc-Connell and Andy Roscoe to patrol the flanks. And true to his power-sharing policy, Blake handed the captain's armband to Jamie Campbell City's fifth skipper of the season. But it was Macclesfield who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the opening minutes, forcing two early corners in front of the Big Bank - sorry, Cliff Bastin Stand. And from the second of Danny Adams' deliveries, Silkmen skipper Darren Tinson rose unmarked to nod barely a yard wide. It was Tinson who tangled with Steve Flack to hand City a free kick 25 yards out from goal on 11 minutes. Cornforth's dead ball strike fizzed over the wall, comprehensively defeated Macclesfield keeper Lee Martin, but rebounded back into play via the inside post. Grecians custodian Arjan Van Heusden, whose heroics had earned his side a precious point at Mansfield eight days earlier, continued where he left off with a stunning point-blank save from Lee Glover. Slowly but surely, though, City wrested control of the game back from their guests with some slick passing moves and carving out a handful of half-chances. Flack rolled the ball inches wide of an unguarded net after out-muscling Tinson 30 yards out and catching Martin blindly groping around in no man's land. A deep Cornforth freekick then glanced off Flack's temple only for Campbell to horribly mishit his volley from just eight yards out. Macclesfield central defender Rae Ingram's desperate intervention denied Mudge a clear header from one of Roscoe's trademark swinging crosses. But with 'flu-ridden wunderkind Christian Roberts lacking his usual sparkle, City crucially failed to make the most of their first-half purple patch. Roberts did finally burst into life shortly after the restart, his venomous 20-yard strike being claimed superbly by Martin as it threatened to creep inside the post. Tinson was then again granted the right to roam inside the Exeter area from another Adams corner, this time butting too close to Van Heusden from eight yards. And with highly-rated winger Durkan starting to make in-roads down the right flank, Macclesfield suddenly looked favourites to make the breakthrough. The impressive Irishman was allowed to stride menacingly forwards before letting off a vicious effort that was pushed onto the foot of the post by a relieved Van Heusden. Blake's response was to haul off the tiring Cornforth, hand John Wilkinson his first appearance of the campaign and revert to a 4-4-2 formation. And both sides squandered chances to snatch all three points in the dying minutes. Macclesfield's corner routine- stand biggest player on the penalty spot and try to pick him out - is more GCSE physics than rocket science. But City again allowed themselves to be fooled when Tinson rose to meet Adams' flag kick four minutes from time. Van Heusden managed to paw the ball over the bar, but there are no prizes for guessing what Blake and Perryman will be concentrating on in training this week. And right at the death came Mudge's most telling contribution- a deflected 25- yard effort that forced Martin into a nervy but ultimately successful stop. A draw was about the right result on the balance of play we must wait and see whether it turns out to be the right result when City's fate is decided at the end of the season.
EXETER CITY 0 MACCLESFIELD 0
EXETER: A Van Heusden, B McConnell, N Whitworth, J Campbell, J Cornforth, A Roscoe, P Buckle, K Ampadu, C Roberts, P Read, S Flack.
SUBSTITUTES: S Fraser, G Tomlinson (Roberts 89), J Mudge (Read 23), M Burrows, J Wilkinson (Comforth 78).
MACCLESFIELD: L Martin, S Hitchen, D Tinson, R,Ingram, G Rioch, C Priest, D Adams, K Keen, K Durkan, J Askey, L Glover.
SUBSTITUTES: S Collins, B Sedgemore (Rioch 76), S Wood, G Abbey, D Whitehead (Askey 82).
BOOKED: Tinson, Rioch, Adams (Macclesfield).
SHOTS ON TARGET:
Exeter 3, Macclesfield 6
CORNERS: Exeter 1, Macclesfield 9 FOULS COMMITTED:
Exeter 13, Macclesfield 17
OFFSIDES: Exeter 2, Macclesfield 3
Richard Beeby (Northampton)
City manager's public apology to stand critics
BY NICK BEER
Noel Blake today issued a public apology to fans he swore at during Exeter City's scoreless draw with Macclesfield on Saturday. Blake admits being baited into bawling out spectators sitting behind the dugout in the club's new Ivor Doble Stand. But he today asked supporters to excuse his behaviour and promised there would be no repeat performance. Blake also confessed to responding to criticism when he substituted star striker Christian Roberts in the dying minutes of Saturday's encounter. "I turned around and said he had had the 'flu all week and asked them what they wanted me to do,' recalled the Grecians chief. "Earlier in the game, one or two supporters were a little bit heated and I turned around and responded to them. "I shouldn't have used that kind of language, I let my standards drop and I would like to apologise to them. "It was totally out of character for me, but it was because I was just as frustrated as them." Victory over Macclesfield would have lifted rock-bottom City off the foot of the Nationwide League. But a Grecians side missing suspended trio Chris Curran, Mark Rawlinson and Graeme Power failed to make the vital breakthrough. And Blake's frustration boiled over after former Arsenal frontman Paul Read limped off just 23 minutes into the contest. "I am constantly trying to drive people on at 100 miles per hour," he added. "I lost Paul Read and I was a little bit frustrated in that respect. "But I've never responded to the supporters like that in any way, shape or form ever since I've been at the club - and it won't happen again." Exeter City Supporters Club chairman Dave Bennett thought Blake deserved sympathy rather than condemnation for his behaviour. "It's been a hard time for everybody, but he must be under enormous pressure at the moment, argued Bennett. "I don't think it will do anybody any good if the supporters start getting on the team's back. "Everyone's had their say about the manager, but now it's time for total support from everybody."