16 April 2001.
City back on the slide- Dale run riot as Grecians let defences drop
ROCHDALE 3 EXETER CITY 0
BY NICK BEER CHIEF FOOTBALL REPORTER
EXETER City were made to look like Easter bunnies yesterday afternoon and subsequently slid back into the thick of the relegation dogfight at the business end of Division 3. For the second time in three days, the Grecians woke up with less than a quarter of the game gone to find themselves 2-0 down. To leak two goals in the opening 21 minutes once might be deemed unfortunate, but to do it twice in 72 hours smacks of rank carelessness. Unlike their rousing resurrection against Southend on Saturday, City never looked remotely like pegging back a Rochdale side who are hanging grimly onto the coat-tails of this season's play-off race. Dale's £150,000 new signing Paul Connor and £100,000 strike partner Clive Platt were frankly too clever, too quick and too powerful for a strangely ragged Grecians defence. Noel Blake's men have now picked up one point from their last three outings, have lost their last four away games and are heading for a nail-biting last fortnight of the season unless they put one over rock- bottom guests Halifax at St James's Park next weekend. Just when they thought they had moved clear of the relegation battle and reached the comfort zone, reality is beginning to bite once more. Blake sprang one selection surprise, partnering Damien Spencer up front with Steve Flack and drop- ping Walsall loanee Gary Birch to the bench. And the first 45 minutes was a half of two halves, Rochdale absolutely rampant early on and City assuming control only after they had kicked off for a third time. After lasting just four minutes against Southend, the Grecians held out barely 60 seconds longer at sunny and sandy Spotland. Steve Flack prised open his own defence with an atrocious nod back, veteran Rochdale winger Tony Ford curled the ball in and, after his initial header was clawed out by Arjan Van Heusden, Paul Connor made no mis- take with the rebound. Blake had grown so frustrated with his back-line by the 11th minute that he could be heard to bellow: "There's not been a header that you've won yet." And worse was yet to come, Platt once and Connor twice being denied by breathtaking saves from Van Heusden. Rochdale then deservedly doubled their advantage from a Ford corner, Mark Monington butting unopposed against the bar and David Bayliss mopping up from close range.
A clearly disgusted Blake's response was to haul off Kwame Ampadu, throw on Mark Burrows and revert to the 4-3-3 system he favoured at the start of the season. And an eventful first half immediately turned City's way Spencer being denied first by home goal- keeper Neil Edwards, then by a block by Lee Todd and Christian Roberts fizzing a low drive across the face of goal. But when Edwards sprang low to This right to push Roberts' ferocious free kick around his near post, the Grecians visibly took on the appearance of beaten men. And Rochdale landed their killer blow 10 minutes after the break courtesy of a calculated flick from Platt and a slovenly piece of defending from the disappointing Steeve Epesse-Titi. Connor galloped into the space vacated by the Frenchman and calmly clipped the ball over a committed Van Heusden. The home side's third goal rendered the rest of the contest academic Rochdale were satisfied with the points and City resigned to having to fight another day.
ROCHDALE: Edwards, Evans, Todd, Monington, Bayliss, Ford, Flitcroft, Jones, Oliver, Connor, Platt. SUBSTITUTES: Ware (for Todd 59), Hadland (for Flitcroft 82), Lancashire (for Connor 78), Gilks, Hill.
Van Heusden, Epesse-Titi, Power, Zabek, Campbell, Roscoe, Ampadu, Buckle, Flack, Spencer, Roberts. SUBSTITUTES: Rawlinson (for Zabek 64), Birch (for Flack 70), Burrows (for Ampadu 25), Read, Fraser.