Match 48
28th March 2005
Farnborough T (h)


Exeter City 2
Devine, 20, Flack, 77
Farnborough 1
Gibbs, 11

Matt Bamsey at ST JAMES'S PARK

SAVIOUR Steve Flack clambered off the bench to fire the second-half winner that secured Exeter City a vital victory in the hunt for the play-offs. The Grecians looked like being cast further adrift in the promotion race until Flack spared the blushes with a point-blank header. And it could turn out to be the most important goal of the season as City launched yet another memorable fightback. Four points from their two Easter matches represents a respectable haul and keeps Alex Inglethorpe's men firmly in the reckoning at the business end of the Nationwide Conference. City made heavy work of killing off struggling Farnborough, especially after the visitors had rocked the hosts with an early strike. But it ain't the way you do it, it's what you do that gets results, and a fleeting moment of magic from Sean Devine and Flack's timely winner was enough to send a bumper St James's Park crowd home in near delirium. City have now harvested 11 points out of a possible 15 and are in the sort of form that can help reclaim their Football League status. Victory over Farnborough reduced the gap to the play-off zone to three points and, with nine teams separated by six points, anyone hitting top gear now is sure to claim one of the four places up for grabs. City stepped out at St James's Park knowing that anything other than three points would severely dent their play-off aspirations. Yet they were stunned by an early Farnborough goal before the old guard not for the first time this season, marched to the rescue. Manager Inglethorpe made two changes to the side that carved out a 2-2 draw at Morecambe on Good Friday. Sean Devine replaced Jake Edwards up front and Gary Sawyer was rested, meaning Alex Jeannin returned. to a more accustomed left-back role. The late switch paved the way for Gareth Sheldon to start his first game since last month's defeat against York City St James's Park. And the returning winger wasted a glorious chance to snatch the lead after just 38 seconds, latching on to Les Afful's cross only to screw a volley wide with the goal at his mercy. Farnborough, who had shipped 13 goals in their last two Conference outings, fired an early warning shot when Carl Gibbs tested Paul Jones with a volley, which the shot stopper comfortably smothered. But Jones' next task was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. Jay Smith flighted a ball over the head of Jeannin, who had drifted out of position, and Gibbs neatly chested the ball down and unleashed a stinging volley that shaved the inside of Jones' right-hand post be- fore nestling in the other corner of the net. The goal plunged St James's Park into mourning and left the players in a state of shock. To their credit, there was no licking of wounds as the hosts fash- ioned a steady of stream of chances in a bid to claw their way back into the match. Lee Phillips was thwarted by Andy Patterson after the former Weymouth striker had crafted his own opening and Afful was denied as the keeper raced out of his box to smother at the winger's feet. After Devine had hooked a volley wide from a Sheldon corner, the two players combined again to engineer an equaliser. Sheldon nodded into Devine's path and the striker took one touch before smashing a shot past Patterson and into the top corner. The veteran striker then came close to adding a second, a lightening City breakaway ending with Devine blazing a volley over the bar. Farnborough caused temporary alarm on the half- hour mark when Michael Johnson's free-kick brushed the top of Andy Taylor's head and landed on the roof of the net. The complexion of the contest altered dramatically after the break as City took a stranglehold on the game and underlined their super- ior league status. The pressure on the Boro goal was relentless. But to the increasing frustration of home supporters a flurry of opportunities all went begging. The blitz began just four minutes into the half when Sheldon flashed a free-kick over the bar. And when Patterson sprang low to his right to push another Shel- don shot around the post, Farnborough visibly took the appearance of beaten men. They were increasingly driven back, inviting wave after wave of attack and it seemed only a matter of time before they were put to the sword. When Sean Devine drilled across the face of the six-yard box only the faintest of touches was required as Farnborough escaped again. Defender Jimmy Turner out-muscled Flack and then somehow managed to clip the ball over his own bar from point-blank range, seemingly defying the laws of physics. More danger followed, Chris Todd planting a header just wide, Flack foiled by Patterson and then Les Afful was unbelievably denied his first goal of the season. Afful left Anthony Fenton for dead, powered into the penalty box and hit a pile-driver seemingly destined for the back of the net. But his curse in front of goal continued when Petter- son somehow touched the ball over the bar with a magnificent reflex stop.And when Santos Gaia stabbed over, Jeannin's missile was blocked and Devine denied, it seemed that the ghosts of last season had returned with a vengeance. However, it was then that the decisive blow was landed thanks to Flack's ball-winning prowess and Sheldon's exquisite dead- ball delivery. It all began when Afful who had teased Farnborough for the majority of the afternoon received some of the visitors' own brand of retribution as he was scythed down by Turner. Sheldon whipped over the free-kick towards the back-post, cutting most of the Farnborough defence out of the equation, and Flack rose to nod home. City might have added two more. Sheldon's free-kick stuck under Patterson's body and the keeper could only look on helpless as substitute Jake Edwards lashed past the post having shredded the visitors' increasingly ineffective offside trap. After five minutes of injury time, City could celebrate a priceless victory that keeps alive their pro- motion hopes. You only had to to look at the players celebrations to realise the importance of this one.

Exeter. Jones, Hiley, Gaia, Todd, Jeannin, Afful, Ampadu, Taylor, Sheldon (Tully, 83), Phillips (Flack, 52), Devine (Edwards, 88)

Yellow cards: Todd, 73

Famborough: Patterson, Turner, Theo (Charles, 84), Fenton, Parker (Hughes, 90), Allen Page, Smith, Heeroo, Johnson (Taggart, 66), Blackman, Gibbs

Yellow cards: Parker, 55, Allen Page, 81



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