Five games to go and eleven points needs. After our loss against Birmingham, this is my focus, not the title. Although if results go completely our way, I won’t turn the title down. We have three home games and two away games, so with the target of eleven points, the plan is to win the home games and draw the away ones. It sounds simple enough…
Date: Saturday 15th April 2017
Opponent: Derby County (8th)
Venue: Pride Park
Odds: Derby County=Evens, Draw=11/5, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Gusty, 12C
Referee: Mr. Alan Beck
This is one of the two away games we have and I’ll be happy with a point. Whilst it’s difficult to play for a draw, I look to ensure that things stay tight as the attacking Michel is replaced with the defensive Jay Spearing in midfield.
A slow start would be fine by me. However, it doesn’t go like that. There’s action from the off. But it’s us on the front foot. Bradley Johnson shoots wide in the 4th minute from 18 yards. Fie minutes later, Alain Besse feeds Michele Marconi and he runs into the area and shoots from 16 yards. It’s… wide. Five minutes later, Bertin Matip’s inswinging corner is met by the head of Marconi 6 yards out at the near post, but he can’t get it on target. A promising start, but I’d be happier if we could convert a chance into a goal.
I’m soon happier. Much happier. 22 minutes in and Jonny Hayes slips in Marconi and he slots the ball under Fielding from 8 yards for his 12th goal of the season. Three minutes later, Hayes and Marconi exchange passes and Hayes scores his 6th goal of the season from 16 yards. Two minutes later, Johnson passes to Besse and he registers his 5th goal of the season with a cool finish under Fielding from 16 yards. With 33 minutes on the clock, Hayes plays in Marconi and he registers his 13th goal of the season with a first time finish from 8 yards. 11 minutes. 4 goals.
In the 37th minute, Griffiths has the ball in our area and isn’t really going anywhere. Luca D’Avanzo lunges in. Griffiths goes down. Mr. Beck’s whistle goes. Penalty! A way back in for Derby. Griffiths steps up and fires high to Jonathan Bond’s left to pull a goal back. With a minute to go until half time, Hanley meets an inswinging corner at the far post with his head. He’s 6 yards out and heads down. Bond gets down well to save and we complete the clearance by launching the ball upfield off the line.
A three goal lead is comfortable, but the scare before half time has got me worried. Surely we’re not going to score four goals in eleven minutes and still not win the game? If we do, I think we’ll end up in the play-offs.
Eight minutes into the second half, Hayes take a free kick 20 yards out. He finds Jagos Vukovic at the far post. He’s four yards out and powers a header straight at Fielding. It was more difficult not to score. Surely this isn’t going to be a crucial moment?
Griffiths goes close from 25 yards in the 64th minute as we continue to have success in limiting Derby’s chances. With 20 minutes to go, Hayes is replaced on the right wing by Adriano Gazzoli. Three minutes later, Besse chances his arm from 30 yards and Fielding has to be alert, tipping the ball over for a corner. Matip takes the resulting corner and swings it in to the near post. Marconi, 6 yards out at the near post, meets it. It’s in! His 14th goal of the season and the one that seals his hat-trick and has me accepting we’re definitely going to win this game (even though Derby haven’t shown much going forwards).
Michel replaces Johnson in the middle of the park with 12 minutes to go. Derby win a free kick 20 yards out with three minutes to go. It’s not going to be anything other than a consolation if it goes in. It doesn’t. Griffiths gets it over the wall, but can’t get it down again in time. Matip takes a free kick from the right with a minute to go. It’s another free kick that finds Vukovic 4 yards out at the far post. He makes no mistake this time and registers his 6th goal of the season to complete a comprehensive victory.
Before Derby can kick off, I replace Marconi with Philipp Langer. It gives the away fans the chance to applaud Marconi for an outstanding performance in an excellent victory.
Result: Derby County 1-6 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Michele Marconi
Ratings: GK-Bond (7.0), DR-Zapotoka (7.6), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.4), DCL-Vukovic (8.6, G), DL-Riccardi (7.0), DMC-Spearing (7.6), MCR-Matip (9.1, 2A), MCL-Johnson (7.6, A, sub 78), AMR-Hayes (9.0, G, 2A, sub 70), AML-Besse (8.6, G), ST-Marconi (9.7, 3G, A, sub 89). Subs-Gazzoli (6.9, on 70), Michel (on 78), Langer (on 89). Unused-McCarey, Rentea.
League Position: 2nd
Wow. Just wow. I’d have been happy with a point, but am delighted with the response from the lads after losing the big game against Birmingham. Marconi looked like the striker he was in Autumn when he was scoring plenty before drying up over winter and Federico Cenci is available next time out, which is a lovely selection dilemma to have. The only downside on the day is that Blackburn also win. So we’re still only six points ahead, but now there’s only four games to go. Dare I dream?
Mathematically, the results secure play-off spots for Birmigham and ourselves. However, a six point lead with four games to go means that I’ll be disappointed if we have to take part in them.
Unsurprisingly, we have plenty of representatives in Team of the Week – Gennaro Riccardi, Jagos Vukovic, Bertin Matip, Jonny Hayes, Alain Besse and Michele Marconi all get the nod.
We welcome back Will Keane from his loan spell at Middlesbrough and Frankie Timmins from his loan spell at Burton Albion.