Match 30
29 December 2001.
Rochdale (h)

Exeter City 1 Rochdale 1.

Saturday 29 December 2001.

Report By Nick Beer 

EXETER City boss John Cornforth blew his top after seeing the second of two cast-iron spot-kicks waved away by spineless referee Paul Taylor.

The Grecians chief was politely asked to spend the final few minutes watching from the relative tranquillity of the Ivor Doble Stand - an invitation he was wise enough to accept.

And even then he witnessed another sackful of chances go begging as City failed to turn their overwhelming superiority into maximum points.

But despite such an eventful afternoon, Cornforth was in chipper mood following an absorbing 1-1 stalemate with high-flying Rochdale.

The Grecians had a point to prove three days after the shambles that was their 3-0 Boxing Day humiliation at the hands of crisis club Swansea City.

If it hadn't been for Mr Taylor's indecision and a pair of superlative saves from visiting goalkeeper Steve Banks, they would have boomeranged back to winning ways at the first available opportunity.

Never mind the result, this was the kind of rapid response Cornforth had demanded following a worryingly subdued series of performances at St James's Park in recent weeks.

And it was ultimately fitting that City ended the year on something of a high following a tremendous turnaround in fortunes since the appointment of their young manager.

"I didn't mind sitting in the stands because you get a better view from up there," quipped Cornforth.

"It was a penalty, the lad handballed it. The referee might have been unsighted, but that's what he's got a linesman for. I thought the first one was a penalty as well so, yes, I feel totally robbed.

"I don't think the referee gave us many decisions all over the pitch in the first half, but these things happen and you've just got to get on with it.

"But that's us playing well, when we're attacking teams like that, we switched the play well and passed the ball.

"It's two points lost because we totally dominated for 88 minutes."

Rochdale opened the scoring after just 95 seconds when the fleet-of-foot Kevin Townson toe-poked past advancing City keeper Stuart Fraser.

The equaliser came on the hour from an unusual source, centre-back Alex Watson connecting with the sweetest of volleys from an Andy Roscoe corner.

But the goals tell only half the story of a pulsating afternoon peppered with glaring misses, sublime goalkeeping and penalty area shenanigans.

Rochdale custodian Banks - on loan from Premiership Bolton - had no right to save a flying Roscoe header or Steve Flack's instinctive close-range effort in the final quarter of the contest.

And new Spotland boss John Hollins was at least big enough to admit as much.

"He made two or three top-drawer saves, excellent saves," admitted the former Chelsea and Swansea chief. "He is a Premier League keeper and he showed his worth today but full credit to Exeter, they pushed up and made it very hard for us."

City defender Jamie Campbell was cast as chief fall guy for the Swansea catastrophe, the ex-skipper denied even a place on the bench with Neil Whitworth shunted into his preferred centre-back berth.

With regular glovesman Arjan Van Heusden sitting in the stands nursing a torn hip muscle, understudy Stuart Fraser was handed his first competitive start since the final game of last season.

And Graeme Power's return to fitness allowed Barry McConnell to revert to his more familiar role as a marauding right-back.

Whitworth's heart had to be retrieved from his stomach after his sliced clearance flew past the angle of post and bar with the game barely a minute old.

But the reprieve proved only temporary as Sean McCauley's flighted through ball caught City's back-pedalling rearguard woefully flat-footed.

Townson - whose raw pace and poacher's instinct has prompted talk of a big money move - arrived on the scene ahead of Fraser in good time to nonchalantly flick the ball into an unguarded net.

With Black Boxing Day still fresh in their minds and a goal down after just two minutes, the Grecians had dug themselves into a real hole.

Their stand-in skipper set the ball rolling, Kwame Ampadu testing Banks's handling from 25 yards.

And City should have been given a golden opportunity to level on 11 minutes when Glenn Cronin's surge into the Rochdale area was crudely interrupted by Blackburn Rovers loanee Darren Dunning.

Mr Taylor - an over-eager whistler except when there is a big decision to be made - turned his palms downwards to the noisy derision of the nearby Cliff Bastin Stand.

It was from one of a constant stream of free-kicks that City's next decent chance arrived, Christian Roberts feeding the ball quickly to Flack who missed a yawning target with his over-hit attempted lob.

Flack's instant turn and cross then triggered Roscoe's flying header from around the penalty spot, Banks springing to his right to prevent the ball from bulging the top corner of the net.

Flack nodded awkwardly wide before galloping onto a Fraser clearance and screwing his shot wastefully beyond the far post.

When the Rochdale glovesman plunged low to his right to push Flack's point-blank attempt around the foot of the post, the signs began to look ominous.

It eventually fell to defensive warhorse Alex Watson to haul the Grecians back on terms from one of a series of dangerous Roscoe corners.

The ball flicked off the head of Flack and a gaggle of defenders at the near post and looped towards Watson who crashed it back past Banks full on the volley.

The 33-year-old veteran almost repeated the trick seven minutes later, letting fly from the edge of the area - but straight at the 'Dale keeper.

The visitors, who had by now switched to a more adventurous 4-3-3 system, did then start to emerge as a more potent attacking force.

Only substitute Paul Ware will know how he managed to slam the ball against the foot of the post from six yards, and Flack rounded off a miserable afternoon in front of goal by twice butting wide under pressure from a desperate Rochdale defence.

And all eyes again turned to the referee two minutes from time when a frantic goalmouth scramble ended with Ampadu's attempted cross striking the outstretched arm of Richard Jobson.

City appealed in unison while Rochdale stared sheepishly down at their boots - but it was clear by then that Mr Taylor was not a man for the big decisions.


EXETER: S Fraser, B McConnell, A Watson, N Whitworth, G Power, K Ampadu, G Cronin, A Roscoe, C Roberts, G Tomlinson, S Flack.

Substitutes: N Murphy, J Richardson, M Burrows (for Whitworth, 75 mins), P Read (Tomlinson, 79), M Barlow.

ROCHDALE: S Banks, W Evans, G Griffiths, R Jobson, S McCauley, D Dunning, A McLaughlan, M Oliver, P McCourt, C Platt, K Townson.

Substitutes: N Edwards, S Coleman, P Ware (McCourt, 50), P Connor (Dunning, 74), L McEvilly.

GOALS: Kevin Townson 2 (0-1) Alex Watson 62 (1-1)

Booked: Roberts, Flack, Power (Exeter), McCauley, Platt (Rochdale)

Shots on target: Exeter 8, Rochdale 2

Corners: Exeter 9, Rochdale 2

Offsides: Exeter 8, Rochdale 7

Fouls: Exeter 17, Rochdale 19

Attendance 2,994.

Referee: Paul Taylor (Cheshunt)

Exeter City

Stuart Fraser, Graeme Power, Neil Whitworth, (Mark Burrows), Alex Watson, Barry McConnell, Andy Roscoe, Glenn Cronin, Kwame Ampadu, Christian Roberts, Steve Flack, Graeme Tomlinson, 
(Paul Read). 
Subs:- Nathan Murphy, Jay Richardson, Martin Barlow. 


Steve Banks, Wayne Evans, Richard Jobson, Gareth Griffiths, Sean McAuley, Darren Dunning, (Paul O'Connor), Alan McLoughlin, Michael Oliver, Pat McCourt, (Paul Ware), Clive Platt, Kevin Townson, 
Subs Neil Edwards, Simon Coleman. 


Referee: P Taylor

Attendance 2994 with 158 away fans



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