City still have pride to play for
Last Saturday in a sun-drenched Brunton Park, the Grecians battled to retain their League One status and in a game that even the home fans said could have gone either way, writes Gareth Hughes.
Sadly it didn’t for Exeter City, in the end going down 4-1 and ending their three season spell in League One. The win leaves Carlisle with a chance this weekend at reaching the playoffs for the Championship, making the reality in footballing terms even bigger. Ironically, the Carlisle win ended a three-game losing streak, whilst for City the defeat came on the back of a recent upturn in form. For City there was no shame on the day as it was entertainment from the first whistle as both sides pushed for the win they needed.
Statistics on the day tell part of the story for us with 18 shots, eight on target, two disallowed off side, penalty hit the bar, shots hit the post and the bar, saves from the keeper, and clearances off the line. Unfortunately as most City fans appreciated, ahead of the game the story of the season was completed before kick-off, and the ending was already written.
From the high point of last season with the club just one point off a place in the play-offs there were significant changes pre season with the likes of Ryan Harley, Matt Taylor and Jamie Cureton leaving. A level of injuries that have not been seen at the club in recent times played their part, and a distinct poor performance in front of goal were telling.
So, on the day the Grecians were condemned to relegation they made sure they went down fighting. Defiant boss Paul Tisdale said: “We played without fear and how we only managed to score one goal I don’t know.” Carlisle chief Greg Abbott admitted: “They caused us some problems and it was such an open game that it could have finished 9-7. Francois Zoko fired Carlisle in front after 36 minutes and Liam Sercombe levelled from the restart as he latched on to Billy Jones’ pass, scoring his fifth goal in four games.
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City's lead only lasted six minutes though before Cook scored with a clever lob from a difficult angle in the 42nd minute to beat in-form Carlisle keeper Lenny Pidgeley . Carlisle added to their lead in the 51st minute when Jon-Paul McGovern's cross from the right was shielded by Zoko, who laid the ball back to Noble who drove his shot home from 12 yards.
The action came thick and fast. Two minutes later Exeter won a penalty after Collin had pulled back Alan Gow, but Nardiello fired his spot kick against the crossbar. Zoko, to end the game, beat two defenders and slammed a shot past Pidgeley from 18 yards in the 77th minute.
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After the game Paul Tisdale commented "I'm very disappointed but I'm pragmatic enough with my appraisal of where we are, how we've played this season and things we need to do from here. I'm a realist and it's a starting again process. As much as there are decisions that maybe over the course of the season I could have made differently, we played our way, we've done our best and the sprit in the club, in the playing staff, has been excellent from start to finish."
Other news from the club included that the Exeter City under -18s played at St James Park in the football league Youth Alliance Cup National Final against Doncaster but lost 4-0. Exeter City ladies had a successful end to the season being promoted to the third league of ladies’ football.
on Tuesday evening, City U18s reached this stage after overcoming Millwall on penalties in the Southern Area Final. The other finalists were Doncaster Rovers. Six of the Under 18s who have just completed the second year of their scholarships have been offered professional deals by the club. Head Of Youth Simon Heyward was very proud with the 18s, saying: " This year have probably been the best we've ever had. "And while its great as a team that they've got good results, they've gone and performed on a Saturday week in week out. Unfortunately though it was not to be there night as Doncaster ran out 4-0 winners. In truth it was a disappointing performance and had Jamie Reid made more of the fine opportunity he was given in the first two minutes it might have been a different story. City certainly played good football at times but tended to over complicate and were short of ideas and penetration up front. The game was watched by a very respectable crowd of 1,516.
This weekend for the last game of the season and Sheffield Utd are the visitors. They need to win and for their rivals Sheffield Wednesday to lose for them to achieve automatic promotion. United's goal difference means they would go up with a draw if the Owls, who are on a 13-match unbeaten run, lose to already relegated Wycombe. For Exeter there is still pride to play for. They can finally play without fear and with freedom and expression and they can make a difference. Having drawn with the Blades back in October 4-4, a win would be a great way to sign off in League One and hopefully point to a swift return. Come on you Reds!