After our barren spell continued in a nightmare show last time out, our final match of the calendar year is at home.
Date: Saturday 30th December 2016
Opponent: Leicester City (14th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=5/4, Draw=11/5, Leicester City=7/4
Weather: Breeze, light snow, 0C
Referee: Mr. Andre Marriner
Jonny Hayes makes his 100th league appearance for us and hopefully we can make it memorable for all the right reasons. We start like an express train and in the first minute, Bertin Matip plays the ball through the defence for Federico Cenci to run on to. Schmeichel is alert and rushes out, just getting to the ball first. Four minutes later, Michel shoots from 20 yards, but it’s just wide. Bouaza takes an outswinging corner in the 8th minute and Evans unmarked at the far post. He’s 10 yards out, but he’s evidently taken pity on our non-existent marking and heads over. We go straight up the other end and Michele Marconi tests Schmeichel from 25 yards; the effort is tipped over for a corner. Matip takes the resulting corner and it’s an outswinging one met by the head of Cenci 6 yards out at the near post. The header gets deflected and falls to Jagos Vukovic at the far post; he shoots from 6 yards and Schmeichel scampers across his line and is able to smother the shot, which just about sums up our current luck in front of goal. Matip takes an inswinging corner in the 14th minute and Cenci meets it at the near post with his head. There’s no deflection this time on his header from 6 yards and he beats Schmeichel. However, he doesn’t beat van den Maarel who is on the line and clears to safety. It’s looking like another frustrating afternoon and I can’t help but feel we’re going to get punished. One minute later, Cenci goes close again; this time it’s a shot from 18 yards that goes just wide after a pass from Lubomir Zapotoka. Cenci looks to turn provider in the 21st minute, crossing from the left. His cross finds Hayes, who spurns the opportunity to mark his milestone with a goal by heading over the bar from 12 yards. We continue to pile the pressure on and a free kick from Matip from the right in the 24th minute finds Luca D’Avanzo. He shoots from 8 yards and Schmeichel is able to parry before his defence helps him out and clears to safety. Romao enters Mr. Marriner’s book in the 37th minute after a foul on Michel. Five minutes before half time, Evans plays in Bouaza and he shoots straight away from 16 yards. The ball hits the post and bounces to safety. In the first minute of stoppage time, Hayes picks up the ball and makes a strong run into the area before shooting from 16 yards. A diving save by a full-stretch Schmeichel keeps the ball out and Leicester clear to the sound of the half time whistle.
We start the second half on the front foot and four minutes into the half, a long Roman Chaloupka free kick finds Marconi, who looks to chip Schmeichel from 20 yards; the effort goes wide. Leicester show that they’re still in the game when Friend shoots from 20 yards in the 55th minute. Jonathan Bond is alert and tips the ball around the post for a corner. In the 58th minute, we win a free kick 25 yards out. Cenci steps up. He lifts the ball over the wall. It’s dropping. Schmeichel dives to his left. He gets a hand to it. But it’s not enough. The ball’s over the line and in the top corner. Cenci has his 14th goal of the season and we’ve finally scored!
Hayes plays in Cenci in the 64th minute and he snaps a shot straight off from 16 yards that Schmeichel is able to save and Leicester are able to clear the rebound. Two minutes later, Buckley shoots from a tight angle and Bond concedes a corner. I decide that we could do with a bit more experience on the field and bring on Dacian Varga for Hayes in the 68th minute. Varga goes to the left wing, with Cenci moving across to the right wing. Matip enters Mr. Marriner’s book one minute later after fouling Ljublic. Michel goes close to doubling our lead in the 76th minute, but he’s unable to keep his shot from 16 yards down. Jan Pavlov comes on from Bradley Johnson in the 78th minute as I look to make our midfield more defensive-minded. With 10 minutes to go, Cenci goes down in the area. Mr. Marriner’s whistle goes and out comes a card. Cenci is booked for diving. Leicester take the free kick and Evans is booked for fouling Zapotoka. Mills in forced to go off injured in the 82nd minute after colliding with Cenci. In the first minute of stoppage time, the game is winding down. Pavlov has the ball and Guthrie scythes him down, earning himself a straight red card from Mr. Marriner.
Result: Exeter City 1-0 Leicester City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: GK-Bond (7.0), DR-Zapotoka (7.5), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.1), DCL-Vukovic (7.2), DL-Chaloupka (7.3), MCR-Matip (6.9, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.9, sub 76), AMR-Hayes (6.9, sub 68), AMC-Michel (6.9), AML-Cenci (7.7, G), ST-Marconi (6.7). Subs-Varga (6.8, on 68), Pavlov (on 76). Unused-Spasov, Rentea, Keane.
League Position: 1st
A deserved win for us as we had all the best chances and finally we’ve had some luck in front of goal. We could have scored more, but it’s a relief just to have scored again. If we had a goal of the month competition, Cenci would be the clear winner, having scored our only goal of the month. It’s not something he’ll be repeating next time out as his yellow card was his 5th of the season, bringing a one game ban.
Goal of the Month is won by Crystal Palace’s Sean Scannell. Gregg Wylde of Nottingham Forest is Player of the Month, Erik Smedts of Derby County is Young Player of the Month and Mike Phelan of Nottingham Forest wins Manager of the Month. In League 2, Rob McNally (on loan at Bristol Rovers) comes second in the Young Player of the Month awards.
Eleventh-placed Leeds United sack David Moyes. The media make me favourite to replace him, but I tell them I have no interest in taking the Leeds job.
The Football Free Press report that I’m interested in signing defender Alexander Hien from Frankfurt for £1.8 million. He’s not on my shortlist and is also out of my price range.
The start of January sees the transfer window open and reinforcements arrive:
Norwood cost £140,000 from Leicester, O’Toole £350,000 from Leeds, Adamek on a free from Sigma Olomouc and Krejicj from Most on a free. The reinforcements in midfield prove to be timely as Cameroon call up Bertin Matip for the African Cup of Nations.
Philipp Langer returns from his loan spell at Leeds and Ebbsfleet offer to extend Tomasz Surowiak’s loan until the end of the season, which I agree to.
We receive a transfer offer for Federico Cenci from Fiorentina. They offer £1.2 million and a friendly. It would be my record fee received, but I reject it without thinking twice as Cenci is a key player for us.