Sunday, 9 May 2010
Exeter City wouldn't be Exeter City if they didn't leave things until late in the day. Firing in the winning goal that kept us in League One for another season with less than ten minutes to go didn't do much for the nerves, but when it arrived it was a thing of beauty.
Ironically, given that we play an attractive passing style, the winner, as you can see, was route one at it's finest. A booming kick from Jones (who says he shanks them all out of play now?), a nod down from Friend and Ryan Harley, that little ginger bearded God, on hand to volley City into a 2-1 lead and raise the roof off the stadium.
You might have noticed that this place was quiet in the run up to the game. Partly this was due to me being on holiday, but also partly because I didn't want to jinx anything. Every prediction I've made this season has usually turned out to be utterly wrong and writing "I think we'll stay up" only for the opposite to happen would have been galling.
Plus, nothing really needed to be said. Our destiny was in our own hands. Nothing less than a win would suffice, especially as Tranmere faced bottom side Stockport County who, on current form, couldn't even find a brothel, let alone score in one.
Yet City have had a habit of achieving results against better sides, with Leeds and Colchester both losing at St James' Park. And Paul Tisdale has a very good record in the big games. Survival was on. For all of about three minutes.
There was no danger when Richard Duffy played the ball across the back towards captain Matt Taylor, but the pass was overhit, Taylor misjudged it and Gary Roberts jinked past the hapless defender before sending a low drive past Paul Jones. At that point, League Two seemed depressingly real.
But the Grecians gradually started to find a way back into the game and kept the pressure up with a series of corners, and when you have corners, you have thumping Matt Taylor headers, and when Harley's ball hung invitingly in the air, the captain needed no further invitation to tower above the defence and crash home the equaliser.
In the second half, City looked more likely to win the game but then City have also racked up 23 draws. A 24th wouldn't be out of the question and while 1-1 would be a respectable scoreline against a Huddersfield side still in with a very distant chance of automatic promotion on the last day, it also wouldn't be enough. Tranmere were beating Stockport and City were down.
Still Exeter pushed, roared on by a capacity crowd that had put any hint of moaning behind it, creating a wall of sound that will rarely be bettered at St James' this season.
Tisdale did his best Mourinho impression on the hour, sending on Barry "Three Reds" Corr for the ineffective Marcus Stewart, Richard Logan for the hard-working Ryan Taylor up front, while Bertie "Onions" Cozic was withdrawn for Sir Rob Edwards. Bold yet clever.
While this initially looked like a defensive move - replacing three attacking players with two strikers and a defensive midfielder - Sir Rob's introduction meant that George Friend, Harley and Liam Sercombe could push forward more while Corr and Logan gave City extra thrust up front, and generally put themselves about a it. Sir Rob, meanwhile, got on with what Sir Rob does best, which was to head every ball that came his way and start the attacks.
Still City pushed, still no equaliser. George Friend sent through a wonderful ball in front of ball that was begging for a touch but neither Bazza nor Logie could get the telling touch. Corr, while playing well, fluffed his lines several times in front of goal. It was looking like one of those games.
Then, with eight minutes to go, up popped the little ginger bearded midfield wizard Harley to volley home, immediately writing himself into City folklore and leading 9,000 people in the stadium, both male and female, to proclaim their undying love for him.
And that was that. With Tranmere and City winning, and Gillingham capitulating to already-relegated Wycombe, it was the Kent side who dropped back into League Two. They'll be playing Burton, Bury, Torquay and Stevenage. We'll be playing Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and (hopefully) doing the double over Plymouth Argyle. That sounds good just writing it.
It's been a long campaign. It's been exciting. Every time we had a chance to pull away to safety, we fell back. But the team never stopped believing. The fans kept the faith. And this is out reward.
In some respects, keeping Exeter in League One might just be Paul Tisdale's greatest achievement to date. It certainly enhances his credentials as our greatest ever manager (and that's not hyperbole). He's also learner, as well as a genius. Hopefully next season relegation won't be a concern come the last day.
It's a good time to be a Grecian. WE ARE STAYING UP SAY WE ARE STAYING UP.
Exeter City: League One 2010/11. Nice, innit