Following a late comeback in our match at Brighton, we travel to the Midlands for a top of the table clash.
Date: Saturday 5th November
Opponent: Birmingham City (2nd)
Venue: St. Andrews
Odds: Birmingham City=5/4, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=7/4
Weather: Drizzle, 18C
Referee: Mr. Neil Swarbrick
It’s the 17th league game of the season and is being described as a ‘promotion showdown’ – no pressure then lads! Michele Marconi looks to get us off to a flying start in the fifth minute with a shot from
25 yards. Foster saves at the expense of a corner. Four minutes later, Federico Cenci takes a free kick from the right. Bradley Johnson is at the far post, but heads over from 8 yards. It’s a good chance and I hope we don’t end up regretting missing it. Lubomir Zapotoka enters Mr. Swarbrick’s book in the 18th minute following a foul on Blackstock. Marconi plays in Jonny Hayes in the 23rd minute. Hayes shoots from 20 yards and it goes just wide. Birmingham win a free kick 20 yards out in the 31st minute. Nei steps up. He lifts the ball over the wall. It’s coming down. But not quick enough and goes harmlessly over the bar. Pratley looks to put Birmingham in the lead in the 37th minute with a shot from 18 yards, but his shot is a long way wide of Jonathan Bond’s goal. A minute later, Hayes is much closer with a shot from 18 yards, but it goes narrowly over.
We’ve had the best of the first half, but haven’t been able to trouble the scorers. I’m the happier manager as we’ve looked more likely to score and we’re away from home, so a draw won’t be a terrible result. One minute into the second half, Marconi lays the ball off to Hayes. He shoots from the right hand side of the area with a curling shot across Foster. It curls into the far post and it’s in! His 3rd of the season puts us in the lead. Marconi looks to extend our lead in the 60th minute with a fierce shot from 16 yards. Foster fumbles and Birmingham get to the rebound and clear. Cenci takes another dangerous free kick from the right in the 63rd minute. This time he finds an unmarked Zapotoka at the far post. Zapotoka is 6 yards out and unmarked. He heads downwards. Foster gets down quickly and makes a good save to keep Birmingham in the game. Nei becomes the second name in Mr. Swarbrick’s book in the 65th minute after fouling Hayes. Hayes crosses from the left in the 71st minute and it takes a deflection Marconi pounces on the deflection and scores his 7th of the season from 3 yards to double our lead. I bring on some extra experience in the 73rd minute, with Dacian Varga replacing Cenci on the left wing. Three minutes later, Beausejour takes an inswinging corner. Bertin Matip gets his head to it, but unfortunately heads it off the post and into our net for an own goal. It halves our lead and sets up a grandstand finish for the neutral. Birmingham look to pile the pressure on and steal a point. Luca D’Avanzo enters Mr. Swarbrick’s book in the 78th minute, with Blackstock being the Birmingham player fouled again. Blackstock is 10 yards out in the 80th minute and he shoots. It’s straight at Bond, who holds catches the ball and keeps us in the lead. Matip takes an outswinging corner in the 86th minute and finds Johnson 6 yards out at the near post. He heads goalwards and looks to make the points secure. Foster keeps them in the game, tipping the ball over the bar for another corner. We win a corner in the 90th minute, but Birmingham clear and counter. Flynn crosses from the left and finds Tsoumou sliding in. He makes no mistake from 6 yards and rescues a point for Birmingham. I had a horrible feeling we’d be made to pay for the good chances missed. The Birmingham players are celebrating, but the celebrations are cut short when they see the linesman’s flag is up. Tsoumou was offside! We’re still in the lead! Surely we’re going to win now! We see time out and win the promotion showdown.
Result: Birmingham City 1-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Michele Marconi
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Rentea (6.9), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.0, booked), DCL-Zapotoka (6.9, booked), DL-Riccardi (6.8), DMC-Spearing (7.0), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (8.7, G, A), AML-Cenci (6.9, sub 73), ST-Marconi (8.7, G, A). Sub-Varga (6.5, on 73). Unused-Spasov, Karlsen, Michel, Keane.
League Position: 1st
An excellent performance and victory to send us into the international break. We could have won more comfortably (there was a scare at the end), but it’s a massive win and underlines our potential this season. We’re building an excellent platform for a big promotion push.
Jagos Vukovic and Daniel Berger both return to full training, boosting our strength at centre back. Hopefully we can stay injury-free for regular first team players for a while now.
Plymouth Argyle offer to loan Aaron Walker for a month; all parties accept and he joins them for a month. Newport County offer to loan Nicky Holmes for a month, I accept the offer and he joins them. Cheltenham Town offer to extend Mirco Franchini’s loan spell for two months. I accept the offer, but he rejects the extension. The same situation occurs with Bruno Pierrat and MK Dons.
In the international break, I arrange a friendly against Barnstaple to keep the players match sharp and we record a 4-0 victory at home. During the break, Bertin Matip makes his international debut for Cameroon. He comes on as a substitute for the last 5 minutes in a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands.