15th January 2005
FA Trophy 3rd Round
Billericay T (a)
CITY SHOW SOME CUP SPIRIT TO COME BACK FROM 2-0 DOWN
GRECIANS' FIGHTBACK PLEASING FOR ALEX.
FA TROPHY Third Round.
Billericay Town 2
Trott 39. Forbes 48
Exeter City 2
Edwards 86, Devine 87
Martin Downer Reports from NEW LODGE
EXETER City showed yet another promising aspect of their revival under new boss Alex Inglethorpe on Saturday as they produced a memorable late fight back against Billericay Town in the FA Trophy.
The Grecians have soared up the Conference table and even held the mighty Manchester United at Old Trafford since Inglethorpe's October appointment, but at New Lodge at the weekend they showed incredible strength of character to claim a barely deserved 2-2 draw with two goals in the last five minutes. After their brilliant FA Cup performance at the Theatre of Dreams a week earlier, Exeter had looked certain to crash out of the Trophy with nothing more than a whimper. But Inglethorpe claimed he always believed City would come back into the game, even though that faith must have been stretched to the limit as Gareth Sheldon missed an early penalty and Justin Edinburgh's team deservedly steamed into a two-goal lead.
Eventually his belief was well-placed as Jake Edwards and substitute Sean Devine rescued a dramatic draw and earned a replay at St James's Park next week. "You can only change certain things in matches when you're on the side-lines. You can't kick every ball, much as I would like to," the Grecians chief said. "I've got to have faith in our pre- paration and I trust the team even if they are 2-0 down with five minutes to go. I'm always believing they will come back into it." And so it proved against Billericay as full-back Alex Jeannin and second half replacement Devine turned this third round Trophy tie on its head.
The visitors gave themselves hope of an unlikely comeback on 86 minutes, when Frenchman Jeannin's corner was met powerfully by Santos Gaia and Edwards redirected it home at the far post. And, with Town in disarray following that strike, Jeannin broke forward meaningfully on the left-hand side and his deflected cross was helped past unlucky keeper Paul Gothard by Devine.
The Red Devils may have Ronaldo, Scholes and Smith to turn to when they need a goal, but Exeter can always rely on Devine to score when they need it most. The master marksman chalked up his 10th of the campaign to take over from Gaia as the club's leading scorer a feat which he has achieved in the last two seasons since his arrival from Wycombe Wanderers. And Inglethorpe was full of praise for the way his side refused to lie down and suffer defeat for the first time in more than a month. "We played really well today in terms of character, spirit and resilience. It would have been easy to have let the game go when we were 2-0 down. "But the team showed tremendous character. It wasn't our best footballing performance, but these things can happen." For long spells of Saturday's game, which was rather unusually thrust into the national media spotlight following City's Old Trafford heroics, Inglethorpe and Exeter looked like being punished for following in Sir Alex Ferguson's footsteps and fielding a weakened team. Only five players who performed so brilliantly at Old Trafford survived for this largely uninspiring display against a team from two divisions below. Inglethorpe swapped his goalkeeper for the third successive game, with Martin Rice coming in for Old Traffford hero Paul Jones. Devine and Steve Flack were replaced up front by Edwards and Les Afful, Sheldon came in for Dean Moxey and Chris Todd and Kwame Ampadu stepped up their recoveries from injury in place of Gary Sawyer and Danny Clay. Despite all those changes, Exeter star- ted brightly and should have been in front after just three minutes. The spritely Afful went on a dev- astating run down the right and beat Danny Kerrigan easily before clearly being taken out by Dave McSweeney. But Sheldon's well-struck spot-kick was brilliantly tipped on to the crossbar by a full-length save from Paul Gothard. Edwards, whose aerial presence was a constant threat, and Afful continued to look dangerous but their supply line became more and more limited. And Afful, in particular, was guilty of un- necessarily straying offside on many occasions. The home side were well-organised and not afraid of getting players forward from midfield. They succeeded in stifling City's sup- ply lines and even created plenty of decent goalscoring opportunities themselves. The Grecians were given their first scare on 21 minutes, when the lively Kieran Gallagher skipped down the right and delivered an accurate cross for the marauding Steve Forbes, but the uncompromising midfielder headed wide when unmarked 10 yards out. And, near the end of a generally poor first half, Town opened the scoring when defender Robin Trott rose highest to head home a deep Gallagher corner. City did their best to respond quickly and produced their best move of the half just before the break. A long free-kick was won in the air by Edwards and Afful collected well before firing a sweet, dipping volley that forced Gothard into an acrobatic save. Inglethorpe tried to change the direction of the game by making a double change at half-time, with Sawyer and Moxey replacing Todd and Sheldon. But things just got worse for the visitors as Billericay doubled their ad- vantage only three minutes into the second period. Referee Danny McDermid harshly ruled Jeannin had fouled Gallagher near the touchline even though the linesman who was right next to the incident gave nothing and the ball was pumped into the box. It was then only half-cleared and Gallagher fired it back into the danger area, where it fell for Forbes who even- tually found the space to turn and fire a low shot past Rice. The second goal forced the Grecians to become more adventurous and throw players forward, but twice they were almost caught out at the back as Town sought a killer third. And on both occasions it was the previously quiet front two of Ross Ware- ham and Neil Cousins who caused the problems. First Wareham crossed from the right and Cousins headed over when well placed, then Cousins returned the fa- vour and Wareham placed a shot just wide with Rice beaten. City showed signs of a fightback immediately after Devine came on, as he was twice involved in a move that ended with him firing a cut-back from stand-in skipper Ampadu wide of the goal. But for the next 20 minutes or so the Grecians looked incapable of snatching anything out of the game, which made the events of the final five minutes even more incredible.
Inglethorpe's side looked bereft of ideas, but their indomitable spirit meant they never gave up and somehow they eked a moral victory out of seemingly lost cause. And that never-say-die attitude should certainly come in handy when Manchester United visit St James's Park on Wednesday for the small matter of their FA Cup third round replay.
EXETER: Martin Rice, Scott Hiley, Santos Gala, Chris Todd (Gary Sawyer, 45), Alex Jeannin, Andy Taylor, Marcus Martin (Sean Devine, 60), Kwame Ampadu, Gareth Sheldon (Dean Moxey, 45), Jake Edwards, Les Afful Subs not used: Paul Jones, Steve Flack
BILLERICAY: Paul Gothard, Gary Henty, Danny Kerrigan, Dave McSweeney, Robin Trott, Jamie Dormer, Steve Forbes, Leon Hunter, Ross Wareham (Chris Stowe, 90), Neil Cousins, Keiran Gallagher
Subs not used: John Simmons, Rob Swain, Chris Wayman, Tony Limbrick
Booked: Gallagher, Cousins