30 March 2002.
Lincoln C (h)
Fans start to turn on City as freak injuries force a rethink.
NICK BEER AT ST JAMES'S PARK
Exeter City 1 Lincoln City 1.
Saturday 30 March 2002.
EXETER City boss John Cornforth took on the confused air of a Vietnam war hero who had watched his troops cut down in action only to be harangued by peace protesters on his return home. City ended Saturday's 1-1 draw with just 16 fit senior professionals following a freakish injury to left-back Graeme Power. After Power was carried off with a suspected fractured leg, Cornforth had two midfielders as full-backs, a striker holding up the right flank and a winger working the wrong touchline. Small wonder, then, that the Lincoln branch of the Viet Cong sensed blood, started pouring uncontrollably into enemy territory and finally loosed off a well-deserved. equaliser with just four minutes remaining. Andy Roscoe had earlier smashed his eighth goal of the campaign and sixth in his last 10 appearances to give the Grecians a rare early breakthrough in front if their own fans. But those self-same supporters started rounding on Cornforth and his lieutenants as the Imps proceeded to carve out a series of chances in a one-sided second-half. And the manager's battle fatigue spilled over after the game when he launched a surprising attack on the Exeter less-than-faithful. "I was disappointed with the fans," said Cornforth. "They were booing us and, when we're winning one-nil, the place is silent. "It's when things are going badly that we need them to get behind the team. "We're down to the bare 16 players and Tues- day's game at Tiverton (a 2-1 extra-time Devon Bowl win) took a hell of a lot out of them. "It would be nice to have a squad of 24 or 25 players, but I haven't got that and I'm now going to have to sit down a regroup before Monday." Eight players - Jamie Campbell, Dylan Kerr, Christian Roberts, Gary Birch, Jamie Mudge, Andy Walker, Cherif Diallo and loaned-out Mark Burrows have been removed from the payroll since Cornforth took charge last September. Without making even a loan signing and despite operating under a transfer embargo for the past two months, the Grecians chief has guided the club out of the relegation firing line with over a month of the season still to go. And when his second tour of duty starts next August, he hopes a sprinkling of hand-picked troops recruited over the summer will win back the hearts and minds of supporters. Lincoln boss Alan Buckley-whose own first full season in charge has seen the club sink back into the relegation mire - was relieved just to have ended a goal drought spanning over nine hours of football. They needed a dreadful clearance from Grecians goalkeeper Arjan Van Heusden, an ill-advised foul by substitute Neil Whitworth and a peach of a free-kick from former Premiership midfielder Kingsley Black to avoid a sixth straight defeat. But Buckley got it right when he claimed the Imps fully merited a point following a post- interval display full of verve and vitality, "It would have been a travesty with our second-half performance to have got beaten," he declared. "I am pleased with a point with the way things have been going for us, but I am disappointed because I think we did enough to win the game comfortably. "We played some good football and created four or five really, really good chances." Not for the first time this season, Grecians striker Graeme Tomlinson intelligently man- oeuvred himself into position behind the Lin- coln defence from a flighted Power ball after only four minutes. And also not for the first time this season, the former Manchester United man undid his good work with a limp finish that dropped into the arms of back-pedalling keeper Alan Marriott. Lincoln-five across the back, four clogging up the midfield and only Lee Thorpe scouting for scraps up front - had clearly figured defence was the best form of defence and that scoreless draws in all their remaining fixtures would still keep the relegation dogs from the door. Glenn Cronin fired narrowly wide from the edge of the area following City's first corner of a balmy.spring afternoon at St James's Park. The Imps did then finally manage to mount a meaningful attack, former Tottenham wingback Peter Gain materialising at the far post only for Van Heusden to stop superbly with his legs and Paul Buckle to clear the loose ball. But normal service was quickly resumed, Tomlinson's fabulous first touch from Buckle's cross allowing him a fleeting sight of the target until Jason Barnett arrived in the nick of time. And it was no surprise when City forged ahead on 28 minutes their first goal in the opening - half-hour of any home clash since Cornforth earned his managerial stripes six months ago. Buckle hung the ball up inside the penalty box, Flack nodded down into space and Roscoe popped up in unfamiliar territory on the right before letting rip with his trusty left foot. Glenn Cronin's acrobatic scissor-kick flew just wide and Tomlinson latched onto an extravagant Geoff Breslan ball only to lob both keeper and bar as the Grecians ended the first period at the peak of their powers. But the pendulum swung back towards the visitors as soon as they switched to a genuine 4- 4-2 formation after the break. A Justin Walker strike was properly chalked off for handball, Matt Bloomer rolled his shot inches wide of the target and substitute front-man Tony Battersby butted just over from an Adam Buckley centre. While Power headed towards hospital for x-rays on his leg, a rejigged Grecians side were suddenly at sixes and sevens. And with central defensive duo Alex Watson and Chris Curran acting like they had pulled on concrete boots during the break, Thorpe's aerial superiority was beginning to hurt. Van Heusden - back in City colours after spending part of the week on trial at Walsall proved his sharpness with a stunning reaction save from Buckley's vicious volley. It took a goalline clearance from Buckle to preserve the lead when Thorpe again displayed his mastery of the skies from the resulting corner. Cornforth's men briefly rallied midway through the second period, Buckle scooping wastefully over and Tomlinson being left hold- ing his head in his hands after his effort was deflected wide for a corner. Ben Sedgemore's point-blank stab looped kindly into Van Heusden's arms before Breslan darted onto a clever Ampadu ball only to screw his shot the wrong side of the upright. But still the chances flowed for the visitors, Thorpe's shot kissing the outside of an upright and Walker nodding over the bar from barely eight yards out. And it was introduction of Whitworth that eventually decided the outcome of the game though not in the way undoubtedly envisaged by his manager. The substitute defender was caught cold by Van Heusden's awful clearance before proceed- ing to hack down Black right on the edge of the box. The former Nottingham Forest man's free- kick looped languidly over wall and into the bottom corner despite a desperate late lunge from the Grecians keeper. And when excellent referee Steve Baines blew up two minutes before the end of the allotted stoppage time, it was City's battle-weary troops who looked most in need of a spot of R&R.
EXETER 1 LINCOLN 1
EXETER: A Van Heusden, P Buckle, A Watson, C Curran, G Power, G Breslan, G Cronin, K Ampadu, A Roscoe, G Tomlinson, S Flack. Substitutes: S Fraser, N Whitworth (for Tomlinson, 82 mins), P Read (Flack, 80), S McCarthy (Power, 53), M Barlow.
LINCOLN: A Marriott, J Barnett, G Brown, P Morgan, Hamilton, P Gain, M Bloomer, K Black, J Walker, A Buckley, L Thorpe. Substitutes: D Horrigan, S Bimson, T Battersby (Barnett, 31)), B Sedgemore (Hamilton, 46), M Camm (Bloomer, 75). Goals: Andy Roscoe 28 (1-0), Kingsley Black 86 (1-1).
Booked: Buckley (Lincoln)
Shots on target: Exeter 5, Lincoln 5 Corners: Exeter 3, Lincoln 6
Offsides: Exeter 2, Lincoln 6
Fouls: Exeter 21, Lincoln 8
Attendance: 2,609. (59 away fans)
Referee: Steve Baines (Chesterfield)