28th August 2004
Canvey Island (h)
GRECIANS TURN IN THEIR MOST
DREADFUL PERFORMANCE UNDER DOLAN.
By MATT BAMSEY
EXETER CITY 0 CANVEY ISLAND 1
Gary Sawyer (og) 22
St James's Park, August 28 2004
DUMBFOUNDED Exeter City boss Eamonn Dolan glanced up to the stands and nodded in agreement as the howls and catcalls rang out around St James's Park on Saturday. The City chief knew there would be some dark days when he chose to launch his managerial career last summer such is the financial mess plaguing the club. But this x-rated horror show must have shattered even his worst fears. Nothing has come close to this shambolic showing. "We were absolutely rubbish in the first half," Dolan admitted, after his side produced the most gutless, shapeless and downright embarrassing display of his managerial career. Putting it crudely, this was a toothless performance served up in front of a startled crowd. No one could quite believe what they were witnessing. For the first 45 minutes Exeter City failed to click out of first gear, their passing game was non-existent and, even more alarmingly, their tactics were ripped to shreds. Clearly confused over how to deal with Canvey Islands' marauding wing backs, City ambled around the pitch, chasing shadows and then lumping the ball aimlessly up field. On countless occasions the visitors were waved on through, handed the keys to St James's Park and the freedom of every blade of grass growing within its walls. And the debate over how Exeter got it so wrong raged long after a dejected and bemused crowd streamed out of St James's Park. "We didn't get it right as a team in the first-half and I include myself in that," admitted a deflated Dolan. "We tried something that worked very well at Aldershot last season and we thought it would work for us in this match, but it obviously didn't. "I thought about trying to get the messages on during the first- half, but I felt that if I did we would concede another goal and end up capitulating. "We came out a lot better second-half and the players responded, but it wasn't enough." The fact of the matter is that the City defence were left ruthlessly exposed by a woeful midfield quartet and an ineffective strike partnership of Sean Devine and Jake Edwards. Most of the damage came down the right flank and Matthew Joseph, a summer signing from Leyton Orient, must have thought Christmas, his birthday and a significant win on the National Lottery had all come at once. Granted, Dolan was hit with a crushing blow ahead of the match with the news that Glenn Cronin and Chris Todd had both been confined to the treatment room. But after posting one win and two draws from their opening three games of the campaign, nothing suggested that City would hit the self-destruct button with quite such vigorous force. "St James's Park is certainly not a fortress at the moment," admitted Dolan. "Unless it's the type my four- year-old daughter makes on the beach. It is something that we are addressing and we will get it right." After just 30 seconds Joseph flashed a warning as he scampered forward, clipping in a cross that narrowly evaded his onrushing team mates. And the writing was on the wall long before Joseph exploited more space on the flank, whizzing past Jeannin and floating a teasing cross that caught James Bittner in a complete spin. While the City shot stopper was busy punching thin air, Neil Gregory planted a firm header that cannoned back off the bar. And the ball struck the unfortunate Gary Sawyer, who was making his full debut, and re-bounded into the net. Worse could have followed shortly after when Lee Boylan, on his return to St James's Park, was the next to be granted the right to roam down the right wing. Having sent over a deep cross, Gregory flashed a header back across the Grecians' goalmouth as Bittner stood motionless. Chris Duffy, John Kennedy and Boylan all went close before Shel- don provided the only bright point in a pitiful first-half display with a sweetly struck free-kick that was acrobatically tipped over by Danny Potter. To their credit, the Grecians did at least muster the enthusiasm to grapple for the control of the game in the second period after Dolan had reshuffled his bedraggled bunch. Sheldon, who had continually drifted out of position in the first period, at last woke up with a surging run down the left wing. But his cross was flicked across goal by Devine before City had strong penalty claims waved away, Les Afful darting into the box where Peter Smith appeared to manhandle him to the turf. Still City could not penetrate their visitors and, while they had dragged themselves back into the contest in terms of possession,no end product rendered their efforts utterly meaningless. Devine fired straight at Potter, Jeannin's 30-yard effort sailed over and Sheldon's tame header was never going to trouble the former Grecians shot stopper. And Dolan now faces the toughest test of his brief tenure at St James's Park-reconstructing his side's shattered confidence in time for today's banana skin trip to Farnborough.