29th January 2005
Forest Green R (h)
Boss goes ballistic at City super show
Exeter City 2
Edwards 20, Moxey 49
Forest Green Rovers 0
Matt Bamsey Reports from ST JAMES'S PARK
EXETER City remain bang on course to secure an end of season play-off place after racking up their fifth straight league victory at fortress St James's Park. The last time the Grecians were sentenced to a league defeat on home soil came when Eamonn Dolan's leaving bash was hijacked by high-flying Barnet in October. Since then new boss Alex Ingleth- orpe has masterminded five Conference wins on the spin at St James's Park to enhance their promotion prospects. And if this Exeter City side can reproduce the fantasy football they managed in the first-half against Forest Green Rovers, then we could be about to bask in the club's first promotion tilt in over a decade. On current form, the forecasts suggest the Grecians are destined to finish in second place. Of course such devices can often paint a distorted picture, but there is little doubt that Inglethorpe's men are the side in form to emerge from the chasing pack. Saturday's scoreline barely begins to do justice to the superiority of Inglethorpe's troops over a visiting outfit that are battling for their lives towards the foot of the table. They stuffed the part-timers with a heady cocktail of swift passing, incisive movement and a truck load of chances that suggested a cricket score was on the cards instead of the eventual two goals which settled the contest.
Even when the visitors came close to forging ahead in the opening minute there was no panic in the ranks or scattering for cover, just the cool confidence of a side desperate to step up their play-off charge. The fluency, balance, width and fire- power under-pinned City's overwhelming superiority as they laid siege to the Rovers goal with an at- tacking blitz. Enormous credit must go to Inglethorpe, who again gambled on reshuffling his pack for the crunch Conference encounter. And yet again it proved a masterstroke, adding more gloss to a managerial stint peppered by golden touches. The only blemishes on his proud nine wins out of 11 games home record came with defeats against Swindon Town and Manchester United. When he claimed, though, that City should have slayed their hapless guests by a "few more" at the weekend, he was undoubtedly erring on the side of caution. Some raised voices were clearly audible in the away dressing room as Rovers manager Alan Lewer launched a post-match rant. And he was not about to start making excuses when he emerged still crimson-faced to the media. "I thought we were dire, that's the worst I have seen us play," he rapped. "Fair play to Exeter, they deserved the points, but for an hour we were extremely poor." The frank assessment was just about spot on as Rovers looked fragile at the back, were anonymous in midfield and toothless up front. By stark contrast, City illuminated this clash with a fluency and rhythm that caught their guests in a real spin. Higher-division scouts are rumoured to be already drooling over the exploits of 18-year-old-keeper Paul Jones while the meteoric rise of Andy Taylor seems certain to start attracting serious admirers in the not too distant future.
Boasting an abundance of energy and drive, the former Manchester United trainee has developed into a highly accomplished performer destined to move on to bigger and better things.
While his technique nurtured and cultivated during his spell with the Premiership giants has made rapid progress, his work rate off the ball is simply phenomenal. At the weekend City's defence were given a couple of scares, but never really looked like creaking. Gary Sawyer and Santos Gaia have formed an impregnable partnership at the heart of the back four while Chris Todd, surely one of the best central defenders in the Conference, is pressing hard for a recall. And with Alex Jeannin enjoying a rejuvenation in fortunes at left-back and veteran Scott Hiley producing fluent and composed performances week in week out, the foundation for the side is in good shape. Across the middle the technically-astute Kwame Ampadu remains a cool operator, Dean Moxey enhanced his growing reputation with a second- half strike and Les Afful mesmerised, at times, with his fleet- footed raids down the right flank. Steve Flack's sudden groin injury gifted Jake Edwards a rare start, which he seized with both hands alongside the increasingly impressive Sean Devine. It was Afful who almost snatched an early lead and his first goal of the campaign-but his delicate chip over advancing keeper Steve Perrin was hacked off the line thanks to an inspired piece of defending from ex-Nottingham Forest star Des Lyttle. City increasingly took a stranglehold on the proceedings, upping the tempo and launching a relentless bombardment of the Rovers penalty box. Devine was thwarted by Perrin, Edwards went close on two occasions before the home side struck in the 20th minute. With holes the size of the Blackpool Tower appearing in the visiting back- line, it was only going to be a matter of time before Exeter broke the deadlock. Afful shrugged off the physical attentions of lumbering left-back Darren Davies and threaded the ball into the path of Devine, whose drilled effort was deftly back-healed into the net by the handily-placed Edwards. Instead of consolidating their lead, City sensed further reward and went all out to turn the screw on their hapless guests. Afful tricked his way to the by-line, pulled the ball back for Devine, who was foiled by the sprawling Perrin. And when Moxey robbed dithering defender Adam Garner, his drilled cross deflected into the path of Jeannin, whose rasping drive was clawed away. Devine's delicate chip picked out the run of Edwards, who lashed his header over the bar as the avalanche continued. Then an extravagant cross-field ball from Andy Taylor allowed Devine the time and space to set his sights, only for Perrin to produce a fine stop with his legs. Following another scintillating spell of pressure, Jeannin's wicked cross appeared to be squeezing in underneath the crossbar until Perrin leapt to the rescue. And right on the stroke of half-time Sawyer rose to meet the Frenchman's corner only to be denied by Lyttle's saving block. The Gloucestershire side trudged off at half-time thanking their lucky stars they were only facing a one-goal deficit when, in truth, it could have been nearer five. City almost doubled their advantage two minutes into the second-half when Moxey launched a rapid raid through the heart of the visitors' wilting midfield before dragging his shot wide. But the youngster succeeded in penetrating the Rovers' defence minutes later, ghosting towards the near-post and planting a deft header past Perrin following sensational Jeannin a corner It effectively sealed the outcome, though the visitors did eventually manage to cast aside their first-half horror show and muster the energy to make a fight of it. Damon Searle connected crisply enough with his half-volley but could not find a way past the acrobatic dive of Jones. Then Rovers fashioned three decent opportunities, all of which were wasted and, with it, any hopes of salvaging something out of the match all but disappeared. Kevin Rapley scuffed a weak shot past the post before the striker, snapped up on loan from Chester City to solve a striker crisis, sent another effort wide of the target. Controversy erupted when Mark Danks was given permission to burst free down the right flank despite being several yards off-side. But the lines- man's blushes were spared as Hiley mopped up the danger before Lyttle launched a 25-year pile-driver which was comfortably caught by Jones. After surviving the sticky-patch without suffering a blemish, the home side re-gained the initiative in the clos- ing stages. Devine came close to registering a deserved goal, only to blaze inches over the bar, and Edwards al- most waltzed through to claim his second of the match but ex-Grecians skipper Jon Richardson was alert to thwart his advances. The nagging question now remaining is this: will those prediction charts turn out to be true? On the evidence of this there is every reason to assume they will.