Match 39
3 March 2001.
Cheltenham T (a)

Adding injury to insult

Report by Nick Beer. 


It is high time the movers and shakers at Exeter City started moving and shaking in the wake of the club's 1-0 reverse at Cheltenham. A patched-up Grecians side could count themselves desperately unlucky not to have pocketed at least a point from their trip to Whaddon Road. But their fantastic recent run, 14 points out of 18 since the back end of January has finally reached its natural conclusion. Injury was added to insult when central defender Neil Whitworth limped off nursing a sore ankle. Grecians boss Noel Blake has already lost rearguard duo Mark Rawlinson and Chris Curran to long- term knocks. A crowded treatment room is also currently home to midfield schemer Kwame Ampadu and crocked marksman Paul Read. And even before Whitworth's premature departure, City's bench on Saturday featured their 39-year-old manager and 17-year-old striker Jamie Mudge. There is now an urgent need for fresh blood to relieve the pressure on a squad that is understandably starting to feel the strain. But Blake is still strait-jacketed by the club's transfer embargo — imposed four months ago when the board was forced to borrow £65,000 from the PFA. And with this season's transfer deadline now less than three weeks away, time is fast running out. In all probability, the Grecians look likely to avoid the drop even if their ban on new signings stays in place. After all, City remain one of the form sides in the division and right now there is a happy harmony between players, management and the club's supporters. But chairman Ivor Doble and his directors must now ask themselves the question: Do we feel lucky? Because after March 22 - when the Nationwide League transfer registration office goes on holiday - there is no going back. Technical assistant Steve Perryman remains convinced City will avoid the drop whether the embargo remains in force or not. "I don't think we've got anything to worry about," he declared.
No real argument there but, when the stakes are this high, it surely makes sense to hedge your bets. Although he kept faith with his now tried and trusted 5-3-2 system, Blake was forced to make three changes from the side that outclassed Carlisle a week earlier. Illness to creative influence Alex Inglethorpe, and Ampadu's ankle problem, brought recalls for play- maker John Cornforth and the tough-tackling Lee Zabek City's brand new nice guy-bad guy pairing in the middle of the park. And Curran's troublesome knee paved the way for Mark Burrows to make his first start in almost two months. Six hours and 40 minutes of football had passed since City last conceded a goal, and that was a Wayne Corden wonderstrike at Mansfield. But they managed to extend their remarkable recent record by just five minutes and 20 seconds at Whaddon Road on Saturday. Barbados-born former Torquay man Greg Goodridge, who has spent the last six years rotting in QPR's and Bristol City's reserves, has clearly used his spare time to perfect a corking long throw. It was the on-loan winger's huge hurl into the Exeter box, coupled with an unconvincing header out, which opened the door for Mark Yates to hammer the ball gleefully home from 12 yards out. But this Grecians XI is made of sterner stuff than the Peter Fox-led side who crumbled to a 3-1 defeat at Whaddon Road last season. With Christian Roberts dropping deep and wing-backs Paul Buckle and Burrows pushing up, City enjoyed numerical advantage in midfield. Roberts blazed wastefully over after darting onto a typically alert through ball from Cornforth. Goodridge in the process of winning his personal duel with Buckle- then cut inside before forcing Arjan Van Heusden into a smart low stop. A long throw from Buckle flicked off the heads of Andy Roscoe and Steve Flack before arriving at the feet of Cornforth, whose hurried volley flew high into the massed ranks of purple-clad Exeter fans. With the half-time whistle fast approaching, City showed off their new- found confidence with a mesmerising sequence of more than 30 passes. And, somewhat ironically, their clearest chance of the first 45 minutes then arrived courtesy of Van Heusden's route one clearance. Roberts tricked his way past West Ham loanee Grant McCann and pulled the ball back dangerously from the byline only for Cornforth to scoop his shot over the bar. After a unpromisingly scrappy start, the second half blossomed into
an entertaining affair with both sides eager to flex their attacking muscles. Roberts's low drive brought a regulation save out of Steve Book in the Cheltenham goal before Goodridge replied with an on-target 25-yarder. And reshuffled City Whitworth's absence forcing Roscoe into defence, Burrows back into the centre and Mudge on up front continued to make most of the running. Cornforth's delicate dink picked out the run of Roberts who lashed his shot against the body of a sprawling Book. And when the ball rebounded back to him, the luckless Welshman's second attempt thumped against the bar and away to safety. With Zabek back to something like his best, Cornforth lasting the course well and Mudge making a real nuis- ance of himself, promotion-chasing Cheltenham couldn't afford to relax. Flack and Mudge both wasted glaring opportunities to level, the former nodding weakly into the arms of Book and the latter mis-hitting a simple volley from barely six yards. Yates swung his boot and missed from three yards after a typically surging run down the left by Goodridge. And there was still time for Chel- tenham to survive confident penalty appeals from the Grecians when home defender Yates appeared to have handled inside the box. But referee Mike Pike-who had an excellent game-ignored the protests, decreeing ball had gone to arm, rather than vice-versa, and so ending City', hopes of extending their unbeaten run to seven contests.


S Book, M Duff, R Walker, C Banks, M Yates, G McCann, A Griffin, R Milton, G Goodridge, J Alsop, N Grayson. SUBSTITUTES: S Higgs, J White, H McHauley (for Goodridge, 90 minutes), C Iwelumo (Grayson, 78), M Freeman (Milton, 90).

A Van Heusden, N Whitworth, J Campbell, G Power, P Buckle, M Burrows, L Zabek, J Cornforth, A Roscoe, C Roberts, S Flack.
SUBSTITUTES: S Fraser, C Holloway (Cornforth, 90), J Mudge (Whit worth, 63), G Tomlinson (Roscoe, 90), N Blake.

Mark Yates 6 (1-0)


McCann (Cheltenham), Flack (Exeter).

Cheltenham 2, Exeter 4
Cheltenham 8, Exeter 2
Cheltenham 18, Exeter 14
Cheltenham 7, Exeter 4

REFEREE: Mike Pike (Cumbria)



Paul F



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