18th January 2005
FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
Manchester United (h)
FA CUP: HOW IT TOOK A £39m DOUBLE ACT TO KNOCK CITY OUT OF CUP
YOU DID US ALL PROUD!
The FA CUP
Exeter City 0
Manchester United 2
Ronaldo (9), Rooney (87)
Matt Bamsey Reports from
ST JAMES'S PARK.
EXETER City's epic FA Cup adventure finally came to an end at St James's Park last night-but not before they gave Premiership giants Man United an almighty scare. For the second time in 12 days, the brave Grecians injected the FA Cup with a large dose of magic as they took Sir Alex Ferguson's men all the way in the televised third round replay.
In the end, it took goals from Portuguese whizzkid Cristiano Ronaldo and England superstar Wayne Rooney to overcome the plucky resistance of Alex Inglethorpe's men. But when the dust settles on this heroic voyage, the Grecians will bask in the afterglow of knowing that they produced a thoroughly credible display in front of some seven million armchair fans not to mention the 9,000-plus crammed into St. James's Park. And despite defeat, the City braves again covered themselves in glory for their stubborn refusal to bow to the cup holders. Most feared the worst when Ronaldo snatched an early goal to conjure up deep-seated dread that a rout was about to unfold. But the suspected avalanche never arrived, although United spurned a glut of chances to endure a bumpy passage into the fourth round. And while United monopolised the first-half, for a large chunk of the second period a cup upset of monumental proportions seemed within City's grasp. A stirring fightback had the Red Devils reeling, and the nation willing their downfall. And when Sean Devine stabbed home from close range with little more than 15 minutes left, an explosion of celebration erupted around the ground. But Devine had strayed offside and the goal was disallowed. Eventuality, it took a last-gasp piece of sublime finishing from £27m man Rooney to kill off City's hopes. United manufactured the better chances during the match and had they showed more composure in front of goal would have wrapped up the contest by half-time. But the longer the match went on, with United clinging to their slender advantage, hopes of a dramatic comeback flickered ominously under the glare of the BBC cameras. And few would have begrudged Exeter taking the tie into extra-time in light of their gritty resilience and never-say-die mentality. City's FA Cup adventure had started with the visit of Braintree. Last night, it ended with the surreal sight of United's star-studded cast doing battle on the St James's Park pitch. As expected, Ferguson who described the Old Trafford debacle as the worst FA Cup performance in his 18 years as United manager made wholesale changes to the side that failed to shine. The red-faced shambles prompted the volatile Scot to unleash his big guns. By contrast, Inglethorpe had no reason to wield the axe on a side that caused quite a stir in round one of this David versus Goliath battle. The City boss, who had earned rich praise from his opposite number hours before the tie, made just one change from the side that chiselled out a goalless draw at Old Trafford, with Kwame Ampadu recalled at the ex- pense of Marcus Martin. United weathered an initial spell of City pressure to exert an early stranglehold on proceedings. Ronaldo's cross flashed across the penalty box and just eluded the on- rushing John O'Shea as the fleet- footed winger served early notice of his mesmerising skills. It marked the onset of a fearsome onslaught, with United desperate to silence a partisan crowd. And the early goal they so desperately craved duly arrived when Ronaldo pounced on some defensive indecision to bag his second goal of the campaign. Picking up possession on the left flank, the 19-year-old continued his run, collected a return pass from Paul Scholes and buried his low shot into the bottom corner. Ferguson's men were playing with a confident swagger, with Scholes or- chestrating things from the middle of the park. His range of passing and vision was pulling City all over the place and they were increasingly forced onto the back foot. Rooney was the next to engineer some space, swivelling on Eric Djemba-Djemba's cute through ball and firing a first-time effort that was clawed away by Paul Jones. Ronaldo continued to wreak havoc and swept past Scott Hiley before slot- ting a pinpoint pass across the face of the six-yard box towards Ryan Giggs. But the Welshman blew the gilt-edged chance, steering his point-blank effort inches wide. The home supporters then revelled with delight at a moment of Hiley inspiration, the veteran tucking the ball through Ronaldo's legs to give the Portuguese international a taste of his own medicine. The momentary respite proved short-lived with United firing out more warning shots. Gary Neville bashed a long clearance which sailed over Gary Sawyer's head and Rooney reacted quickest only to find his drilled shot scrambled out for a corner. Ronaldo ballooned over from the resulting flag kick and Giggs fired wide when he should have done better: To their credit, City dug their heels in and ran themselves ragged. Little had been seen of the Grecians as an attacking force, but on the stroke of half-time they fashioned their first chance. Alex Jeannin found himself in acres of space on the left and whipped over a teasing cross that Devine agonisingly volleyed wide. If City had struggled to cope with the conditions and been overawed by their visitors in the opening period, then the second-half was a different story. Indeed, you could have been forgiven for questioning which side were comfortably perched in third place in the Premiership and who was battling for promotion out of the Conference. City upped the tempo, denying United space to play their slick foot- ball and put them under pressure every time they had possession. The game had turned from a show of dominance and control to an evenly-contested encounter And what had started out as a glorified training exercise for City's exalted visitors had suddenly been transformed into a good, old fashioned, blood-and-thunder cup tie. Yet, 11 minutes into the second-half, Rooney came within a whisker or a patch of mud from putting the game beyond Exeter's reach. His delicate lob looked to be heading. into a gaping net until the ball's momentum was halted by the sticky surface and keeper Jones scrambled back to smother virtually on his goal line. At the other end, City came agonisingly close to levelling matters, the anguished Devine's volley drifting just the wrong side of the post following Jeannin's laser-guided delivery. As the contest entered its final stages, City continued to push forward knowing they had nothing to lose and Tim Howard was forced into his best save of the match to deny Andy Taylor, whose fiercely hit 25-yard free-kick was heading in. United were clearly rattled, and they suffered some nervy moments of indecision. Devine thought he had equalised when he turned in Jeannin's mishit volley but he was clearly offside and as the cavalry charge continued. Rooney and Ronaldo wasted four glorious opportunities between them to seal victory. But with the minutes ticking down, substitute Louis Saha picked out Rooney and the teenager hurried round Jones and rolled the ball into an empty net to record his first FA Cup goal. As reality dawned that the FA Cup journey had reached its conclusion there were only smiles from City's fans and players alike. After all, the Gre cians had mixed it with the millionaires over two matches and have won many friends along the way quite a feat for a club, who 18 months ago, were faced with obscurity.
Paul Jones, Scott Hiley, Gary Sawyer, Danny Clay, Dean Moxey, Sartos Gala, Andy Taylor (Marcus Martin, 86), Steve Flack (Jake Edwards, 74) Kwame Ampadu (Les Afful, 67), Alex Jeannin, Sean Devine
Subs not used: Martin Rice, Chris Todd Booked: Ampadu, Clay
Tim Howard, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, John O'Shea, Liam Miller (Darren Fletcher, 66), Quinton Fortune, Paul Scholes, Eric Djembe Djemba (Mikael Silvestre, 80) Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs (Louis Saha, 70), Wayne Rooney.
Subs not used: David Bellon, Ricardo