Howe pen 17
A PERFORMANCE full of courage, commitment and quality gave United a valuable victory in a pulsating Devon derby at Exeter City.
Rene Howe scored the only goal from a penalty on 17 minutes and the Gulls created a number of decent openings in a first-half that reminded the Yellow Army of the attacking talent within their team.
The second-half was a different story. Although United continued to look a threat going forward, the defensive heroes were the main protagonists, repelling wave after wave of Grecian forays to secure a wonderful three points.
Exeter boss Paul Tisdale made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 at a muddy Plainmoor 13 nights ago, restoring goalscorer Alan Gow to his forward line alongside Jimmy Keohane. Matt Oakley and new loan signing Mark Molesley also came in, with Guillem Bauza, Kevin Amankwaah and Arron Davies all dropping to the bench.
The fourth absentee, John O’Flynn, who limped off at TQ1, was still unavailable, leaving a space on the bench for Jamie Cureton, suspended for the first tie but now back in line to make appearance number 700 of his long career, if required by his manager.
The United side was selected by boss Martin Ling but illness forced the Yellow leader to watch proceedings from home, with his assistant Shaun Taylor in charge of the team at St James Park.
The Gulls kept faith with the side that performed so well in the first period at Plainmoor but there was one change on the bench, where Niall Thompson made way for Lloyd Macklin to make his return after four months out through injury.
The game was barely two minutes old when Kevin Nicholson performed the first act of last-ditch defending in front of the Sky TV cameras, carefully steering the ball away from the onrushing Molesley after a deep cross by Keohane.
United’s opposite full-back, Joe Oastler, was next to the fore, swinging over a delightful cross for Lee Mansell to launch a diving header toward the bottom corner, and Artur Krysiak needed his full wingspan to turn the ball wide.
Once the early skirmishes died away, it became clear Exeter’s attacking approach was based around finding space for the probing Gow to use his dancing feet to create openings. United’s defence to this ploy was the tireless midfield work of Mansell and his determined comrade Damon Lathrope.
The hard work in the engine room gave United a platform for the opening goal and yet another penalty after the two shared at Plainmoor. This time, Billy Bodin was the catalyst, pinching the ball from Steve Tully and forcing the right-back into a desperate lunge when his clever footwork created space for a potential cross.
Referee James Adcock had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and the ever-cool Howe ignored the jeers of the home fans behind Krysiak’s goal as he planted a confident penalty in the bottom right corner.
United suddenly had the freedom to press home their advantage and Howe was causing all sorts of difficulty for the Grecians. His strength was too much for Danny Coles, allowing the goalscorer to set off on a weaving run that ended with a curling shot, which Krysiak could only just palm clear.
The groans of the home crowd must have been music to Ling’s ears as he sat at home cradling his Lemsip. His side was playing with confidence and dominating their hosts in a display that ignored the contrasting recent form of the two sides.
When Exeter did create a decent opening for Keohane, his hesitancy in the penalty area was the invitation for Aaron Downes to make an excellent, and vital, interception.
Unfortunately, the Australian blotted his copybook five minutes later with a loose pass out of defence that allowed Molesley to set up Keohane for a stabbed left-foot shot which had Michael Poke diving full-length as it whistled inches wide.
Taylor was forced into his first big decision seven minutes before half-time as Nathan Craig was forced out of the game after a heavy tackle and the assistant manager turned to the sprightly skills of Danny Stevens for duty on the left-wing, pushing Bodin over to the right as a result.
Exeter were now in the ascendancy, however, and smart work from Gow found Keohane in the box, but he was thwarted by a superb block-tackle from the assured Brian Saah. It would prove the final act of a very satisfying first half, which surely made the half-time team-talk much easier for Taylor and the coaching team.
The Gulls came flying out of the blocks after the interval, with Stevens finding space on the left to attack Tully and fizz a shot toward the near post that Krysiak did well to tip wide. The subsequent corner earned Mansell the first booking of the night after United’s skipper bundled into the big Polish ‘keeper.
United carved open Exeter again on 50 minutes, when an incisive pass from the lively Bodin picked out Howe in the left channel and the big striker was unlucky to see his low drive whizz inches past the post.
The Yellow tackles were flying in with such ferocity and showed the desire within the team to snatch the Devonshire bragging rights. Exeter were restricted to long-range efforts, the best of which came from Gow but was comfortable for Poke.
The time had come for Tisdale to bring on the cavalry, introducing Bauza and Cureton for the midfield pair of Tommy Doherty and Molesley in a move that could only be described as extremely positive.
The gung-ho Grecians were now full of attacking intent but the Gulls remained the more potent outfit, with the industrious Howe a constant thorn and Bodin looking more like the player that dazzled so frequently last season. Exeter soon made their final change, bringing on Davies for Oakley for the final quarter.
United’s biggest problem was their own player on 70 minutes, as a deep free-kick skewed off the head of Ryan Jarvis in the swirling wind, but Poke was in the right place to produce a stunning save and preserve the Yellow lead.
All of a sudden, the tide was turning and United had gone into protective-mode. After conceding late goals in their last six games, the nerves were positively jangling when a corner caused a goalmouth scramble that Mansell somehow lashed clear under huge pressure.
Taylor’s response was the withdrawal of Bodin for Macklin and the departing Gull was given a well-deserved ovation from the stoic Yellow crowd in the uncovered away end at an increasingly cold St James Park.
Exeter were really turning the screw and the corner-count was spiralling out of control, but United continued to hold firm, although when he final 10 minutes arrived, it was hard not to reflect on all the late disappointments of recent weeks.
Nicholson was the man to relieve the pressure, exchanging passes with Stevens on the left to exploit the space behind Tully, but the final shot dipped wide. City immediately went up the other end for a hooked shot by Cureton that Poke gratefully snaffled.
The next save was right out of the top drawer, as United’s custodian flung himself to the left to deny Cureton his landmark goal. The subsequent corner was headed wide by Bauza after the Spaniard had found a rare patch of space in the penalty area.
United had now set up camp in their own box, with every man in a Yellow shirt giving every available ounce of energy and endeavour to retain the lead. It was heroic stuff from the Gulls and you wonder if the Lemsip had turned into liquor at Chateau Ling.
Whatever his tipple, there must have been a huge sense of pride for the manager as his defiant troops held on for three magnificent points. Well played lads and congratulations to all involved.
Now, we can start looking up the table again.
Exeter(4-4-2): 1 Artur Krysiak; 2 Steve Tully, 5 Pat Baldwin, 6 Danny Coles (capt), 3 Craig Woodman; 14 Tommy Doherty (12 Jamie Cureton 60), 4 Scott Bennett, 8 Matt Oakley (11 Arron Davies 67), 28 Mark Molesley (21 Guillem Bauza 60); 10 Alan Gow, 22 Jimmy Keohane. Substitutes (not used): 16 Kevin Amankwaah, 24 Rhys Evans (GK), 32 Jake Gosling, 37 Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Gulls(4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 20 Nathan Craig (19 Danny Stevens 38), 6 Damon Lathrope, 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 15 Billy Bodin (14 Lloyd Macklin 76); 8 Ryan Jarvis; 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 18 Craig Easton, 21 Thomas Cruise, 23 Ashley Yeoman.
Booked:Mansell 47, Jarvis 82
Attendance:4,824 (545 away).