28 April 2001.
Scunthorpe U (a)
Grecians safe at last!
Scunthorpe 0 Exeter City 2
BY NICK BEER CHIEF FOOTBALL REPORTER
EXETER City set foot in the promised land of Na- tionwide League survival with a victory that must surely rank among the most earth-shattering in the club's 97-year history. Noel Blake's weary travellers started the day gulping for air at the foot of the Nationwide League and widely tipped to suffer a heavy beating at the hands of promotion-chasing Scunthorpe. In seven previous visits to Glanford Park, City had shipped 20 goals, netted just six in reply and come away empty-handed on each and every occasion. Margaret Thatcher had just been elected Tory Party leader and half the current squad were yet to take their first breath when Exeter last managed an away win against Saturday's opponents. Scunthorpe had lost just twice in front of their own supporters all season- to high-riding Cardiff and Hull and were desperate for the win that would keep their play-off hopes alive while the Grecians were attempting to avoid a fifth successive failure on the road. So the 200 City fans who made the 280-mile trek to North Lincolnshire on Saturday did so more out of loyalty than any real sense of hope or expectation. But like early Beatles concerts at the Cavern Club, many more will doubtless claim they were at Glanford Park on April 28 2001. Wild celebrations broke out as soon as referee Chris Foy signalled the end of an afternoon as dramatic as Division 3 will have seen all season. While boss Noel Blake and right-hand-man Steve Perryman embraced enthusiastically, supporters and players greeted each other as if they'd just broken down the Berlin Wall. The sight of the devastated Scunthorpe players trudging up to receive their end-of-season awards lent an even more surreal air to the proceedings. And even Blake who has now completed his journey to hell and back in an often soul-destroying first full season in management-dropped his guard to indulge in a lingering bout of mutual appreciation. Whatever prayers the avowed Christian uttered when he woke up on Saturday morning, he could not have dreamed of the staggering display he was to witness a few hours later. "It's been tough this season, but my faith has stood me in good stead," he said afterwards. "I am delighted with every single one of my players because, throughout a very trying season, they have stood the test. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights because of all the problems we've had. The supporters were magnificent again, I am delighted for the club and for the chairman who has been through it himself this season. "And I want to mention Steve Perryman who has enabled me to relax and bounce ideas off him. He has been very, very good for me in many respects and I want to give him a big thank-you for that. "What I've learned this season is difficult to put into words and, with the backing of a lot of people, the players and my staff, we have come through." Although City were already well on top, the game turned even more firmly in their favour following the dismissal of firebrand Scunthorpe captain Steve Torpey just before half-time. An audible crack of elbow against the head of pole- axed Jamie Campbell left the referee with no option but to produce an instant red card. It was still vital that Exeter took advantage before their hosts had time to reorganise during the interval and Graeme Power's delightful shimmy and cross and Christian Roberts's clinical header saw to that. And after answering every question asked of them early in the second period, loan striker Gary Birch clinched a victory for the Grecians that will go down in the annals of St James's Park history. Blake's big selection gamble was to start defensive duo Chris Curran and Neil Whitworth, who had managed just 62 minutes of football between them in over two months. Both had resumed full training only days earlier following serious knee and ankle injuries, but assured the manager they were fit to return to senior action. Scunthorpe's success this season has been built on using the full width of the pitch and so Blake was eager to cut off their supply lines down either flank. With Whitworth and Graeme Power sent out to patrol either touchline and Curran, Mark Burrows and skipper Jamie Campbell bunched in the centre of defence, City never gave as much as a sniff to Scunthorpe's £250,000 strikeforce of Torpey and Martin Carruthers. And it was Exeter who carved out a series of chances even before their hosts were reduced to 10 men. Roberts capped a sizzling run down the right in the fourth minute by crossing to Kwame Ampadu, who set up Andy Roscoe to fire too close to Tommy Evans. Scunthorpe then fashioned what was to prove their clearest opportunity of the afternoon, Carruthers nod- ding into the path of Paul Harsley whose effort thumped into the gloves of Arjan Van Heusden. Roberts almost made the most of a sumptuous early ball from Paul Buckle before Whitworth saw his far-post header clawed to safety by Evans from a deep Roscoe corner. And the Iron were in danger of melting in front of their own disbelieving fans when Campbell's half- volley clipped the bar following a Curran long throw. Even when the home side did threaten from a handful of corners, the imposing figure of Van Heusden would arrive to grab or punch the ball beyond their reach. Another instinctive slalom into opposition territory allowed Roberts a glimpse of goal, but the Welshman directed his shot at the over-worked Evans. And then came Torpey's vicious use of the elbow that even lippy manager Brian Laws could not excuse. Laws who launched a bizarre verbal attack on Van Heusden following defeat at St James's Park last November claimed his captain had been goaded into lashing out well away from the ball. "There was a lot of shirt-pulling and he got wound up," explained the Glanford park chief. "But I've got no problems with the sending-off, I would have expected that if it was the opposition." And to pour more salt into Scunthorpe wounds, City broke the deadlock in the stoppage time added for the two minutes it took Campbell to struggle to his feet. A mesmerising piece of footwork from Power took him to the by-line and his precise centre was nodded home with relish by the unmarked Roberts. Laws elected to throw ex-Grecian Brian Quailey into the fray at the beginning of the second half while trusting that his three midfielders could hold their own against City's quartet. Although Scunthorpe enjoyed the lion's share of attacking possession over the following 30 minutes, they lacked the penetration or invention to pick their way through a well-drilled Exeter rearguard. A long-range effort from Quailey and another two from Harsley sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
T Evans, P Harsley, M Jackson, S Thom, A Dawson, R Wilcox, M Sparrow, W Graves, A Calvo-Garcia, S Torpey, M Carruthers. SUBSTITUTES: J Batty, N Stanton (for Sparrow, 81 minutes), B Quailey (Calvo-Garcia, 46), B Larusson, S Brough.
EXETER: A Van Heusden, N Whitworth, C Curran, J Campbell, M Burrows, G Power, P Buckle, K Ampadu, A Roscoe, C Roberts, S Flack. SUBSTITUTES: S Fraser, M Rawlinson, S Epesse-Titi (Burrows, 75), D Spencer (Flack, 76), G Birch (Roberts, 82).
Roberts 45 (0-1) Birch 87 (0-2)
Carruthers, Graves (Scunthorpe), Whitworth, Burrows, Flack, Roberts, Epesse-Titi (Exeter)
SHOTS ON TARGET:
Scunthorpe 2, Exeter 5
Scunthorpe 10, Exeter 3
Scunthorpe 16, Exeter 18
OFFSIDES: Scunthorpe 1, Exeter 9
REFEREE: Chris Foy (St Helens)