26 March 2014

Derby Delight as City ease relegation fears

Exeter City all but extinguished any lingering relegation fears and dented Plymouth Argyle's play-off hopes with a stylish 2-1 comeback victory at Home Park in the Devon Derby last night.

It capped a memorable few days for City boss Paul Tisdale, who came under increasing pressure with City dropping down the table, but he has masterminded back-to-back wins that many fans couldn't have dreamt of following the season-low home defeat to Northampton.

Argyle were the side to take the lead in the derby, however. City captain Danny Coles, who impressively intercepted a number of crosses early on, undid his good work by deciding to block an out-of-reach cross with his hand - a straightforward penalty decision for referee Robert Madley. Reuben Reid duly converted from the spot for his 20th goal of the season, putting the home side in front on the stroke of half-time. A frustrating half for the travelling faithful as, despite some fine passing moves and dominating for large spells, Exeter were indecisive when getting in or around the penalty area.

After the break it was a largely similar story in terms of the balance of play, though City upped the tempo and started testing Argyle's defence more. On 58 minutes Paul Tisdale made the decisive substitution, replacing the hard-working Matt Gill with the more attack minded Matt Grimes. The youngster's introduction immediately added more pace to the midfield and his accurate forward passing meant that City began stretching the Pilgrims' back line. Not long later, the visitors' got the equaliser their play merited - Sercombe's long range effort took a wicked deflection, apparently off Tom Nichols' nose, and looped over the helpless Jake Cole.

With half-an-hour still to go, Exeter were in complete control. Richards went close after he was played in by Nichols immediately after the restart, and veteran midfielder Matt Oakley also spurned a good opportnity. Argyle were hanging on, but the pressure finally told on the 83rd minute - Tom Nichols turned brilliantly into the right-hand channel and played a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of strike partner Eliot Richards, who stroked home to the delirium of the away fans.

It was a marvellous second-half showing from the Grecians. Not only did they just outscore Argyle, they completely outplayed them. The slick passing football on show was in contrast to the home side's direct approach which increased upon the late introduction of Marvin Morgan.

City's homegrown trio were the star performers: Tom Nichols put in an Stanno-like display - quick, combative and tireless. The 20 year-old has been one of the few positives to come from this largely disappointing campaign and a new contract for Tom must be one of Paul Tisdale's main priorities in the summer.

Matt Grimes was typically impressive, whilst Liam Sercombe deserves plaudits for a much-improved display in the second-half which laid the foundations for the comeback.

Finally, a note in recognition of Tisdale's part in the win. Many were questioning him after the woeful run which saw the Grecians slump down the table, myself included, but the way in which City took charge after the interval oozed class. He won the tactical battle over John Sheridan, exploiting the hosts' 3-5-2 formation.

This win has lifted the doom that had descended on St James' Park. Once a few more points are on the board, hopefully on Saturday against Accrington, we can look ahead to next season with optimism knowing we have among our ranks some of the best young footballers in the division.