Two games to go. Six points clear of third-placed Blackburn. Surely we’re there. And yet. There’s still a doubt. If we lose our two remaining games and Blackburn win theirs, they’re going up on goal difference. And it can happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve caused it to happen. Championship Manager 01/02 (I think) when we pipped Tranmere Rovers to the League One title with a scenario exactly the same as this. So we need a point.
Date: Saturday 29th April 2017
Opponent: Ipswich Town (19th)
Venue: Portman Road
Odds: Ipswich Town=13/8, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=6/4
Weather: Wet, 17C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell
I make one change from our last outing, with a defensive midfielder in Jay Spearing replacing an attacking midfielder in Michel. This has served me well throughout the season and hopefully will again today. A more defensive midfielder should increase our chances of a draw, which is all we need. Although in our last away game with a defensive midfielder in place, we went goal-crazy, so who knows!
Six minutes in and Ipswich win a corner. We clear and Federico Cenci gets the ball. The counter is on. He’s running with it. He crosses the halfway line. He’s 30 yards out. He’s 20 yards out. He’s in the area. He’s 12 yards out. He shoots. He… watches Welch make a comfortable catch. It would have been the perfect start, but not to be. However, can’t be too disappointed – we don’t actually need to score again this season to get promoted. Although it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Three minutes later, it’s the turn of Jonathan Bond to make a catch. He catches a 25 yards shot from Darrigi. Oliver Norwood shoots from 25 yards in the 15th minute and Welch is required to beat the ball away. A minute later, Welch denies Alain Besse from 16 yards.
We’ve had some pressure, but then Ipswich start to apply some and test our nerves. Bond is called into action in the 18th minute when he catches a shot from Majewski 12 yards out. Darrigi finds the side netting in the 25th minute from 10 yards out. A minute later, Majewski opens the scoring from 18 yards. Surely it’s not going to go down to the final day of the season…
On the half hour mark, Bradley Johnson fires in a shot from 25 yards that Welch catches. On the stroke of half time, Norwood takes an outswinging corner. It’s met by Cenci, who is 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s in! He’s levelled the score with his 29th goal of the season. We’re going up!!!!
It’s a slow start to the second half. Ipswich don’t really have anything to play for, so hopefully they’ll be happy to accept the draw. I know I certainly would!
The first action of note occurs in the 58th minute when Johnson shoots from 18 yards. Unfortunately, it’s a long way wide. On the hour mark, Cenci meets an outswinging Norwood corner. He’s unmarked and 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s… an outstanding diving stop by Welch and he hold on, preventing us from even scrambling in a rebound.
We’re pressing for another goal though. Besse feeds Cenci in the 63rd minute and he shoots instantly from 10 yards, but only succeeds in finding the side netting. With 21 minutes to go, Jagos Vukovic passes to Cenci. His back it to goal. He turns his marker. He shoots powerfully from 18 yards. It’s under Welch. IT’S IN!!!! His 30th goal of the season. Surely that’s the goal that guarantees Premier League football at St. James Park next season!
Morrison looks to hit straight back for the hosts, but he shoots wide from 10 yards in the 73rd minute. Moments later, Johnson plays in Cenci. A chance to secure the score a hat-trick, secure the points and promotion. He shoots from 18 yards and is denied by an outstanding diving save by Welch. We do gain a corner, but nothing comes of it. Johnson shoots from 25 yards again in the 77th minute, but Welch catches.
Majewski comes close to pulling the hosts level in the 79th minute when he shoots from 12 yards. Bond makes an excellent diving stop to keep us in the lead. With 7 minutes to go, Torral crosses from the left. It hits Luca D’Avazo, wrong footing Bond and it’s an own goal. A draw is all we need, so it’s not a disaster. But it could be.
We’re a minute into stoppage time. The away fans are whistling, urging Mr. Attwell to blow the final whistle. We’re defending. We’ll take this and I won’t complain if Mr. Attwell blows up a couple of minutes early. We’ve players behind the ball and Ipswich aren’t going anywhere too fast. McAllister is 30 yards out. He decides that a shot is his best course of action. He strikes it well. But it’s wide. Two minutes later, Mr. Attwell blows the final whistle. WE ARE GOING UP!
Result: Ipswich Town 2-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: Gk-Bond (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.1), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.7), DCL-Vukovic (6.8, A),DL-Riccardi (6.6), DMC-Spearing (6.6), MCR-Norwood (7.9, A), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Besse (7.3), ST-Cenci (9.1, 2G). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Michel, Gazzoli, Marconi.
League Position: 2nd
Am I disappointed we couldn’t hold on to secure the win? Not really. At the start of the game, I’d have happily accepted this as the final score and result. It’s all we needed to secure promotion, which was the aim. A win would have been nice (and deserved), but I’ve never been happier with a win turning into a draw in the last 10 minutes.
Did we even need a draw? Did Blackburn win. Would it have gone to the final day? Who knows. I certainly wasn’t checking.
The results over the weekend see Birmingham secure the league title and Middlesbrough take the final relegation place. Blackburn, Leeds and West Ham will all be in the playoffs, so there’s a place up for grabs on the final day of the season.
Federico Cenci is named in Team of the Week for his double and Man of the Match performance. It’s fitting that he scored the goals that secured promotion. He also signs a new 5 year contract, removing a minimum fee clause. If he does go, I want much more than the £5,000,000 that had been in place.
Bertin Matip resumes full training, but is unlikely to play a part on the final day of the season as he’ll be lacking match fitness. Juho Virkki returns from his loan spell at Hereford United.
Philipp Langer requests to be removed from the transfer list and I agree. Whilst Langer wants to stay, Lasse Karlsen wants to go and requests to be placed on the transfer list. I accept his request.
The awards for April are made:
Player of the Month: Milan Lalkovic (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Young Player of the Month: Damian Evans (Leicester City)
Goal of the Month: Tarmo Kink (Hull City)
Manager of the Month: Sam Allardyce (Birmingham City)