The day we’ve been working towards for six seasons and one we’ve been looking forward to since the fixtures were announced. St. James Park will host it’s first ever Premier League game.
Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
Opponent: Liverpool (2nd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=11/5, Draw=11/5, Liverpool=Evens
Weather: Breezy, showers, 15C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall
The first ever Premier League game at St. James Park sees us welcome the five-time European champions. I’m expecting it to be a tougher examination than we received at Fulham as an unchanged starting XI exit the tunnel to roars of support from the Big Bank. There are extra loud cheers for Bradley Johnson (400th career league appearance) and Federico Cenci (100th league appearance for the club). Although it’s 4th hosting 2nd, it’s not being described as a title decider.
Even the best plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy. Our plan lasts 20 seconds. Ilica Perak goes down. The physio runs on and is soon signalling (no fancy mike systems for us!) to me that Perak won’t be able to continue. I look along the bench and tell Regis Olivier to quickly warm up before going on to make his debut.
Five minutes in, the situation gets worse. Sigurdsson crosses from the left and Stepanenko volleys in from 16 yards to give the visitors an early lead. Six minutes later, Sigurdsson takes an inswinging corner. Samba rises highest at the far post, but heads over from 4 yards out.
It’s not been a great start, but we carve out a chance in the 14th minute. Well, more of a half chance. Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out and looks up. He evidently doesn’t like the options ahead of him and decides to chance his arm. He shoots and hits the bar. The ball goes high up into the air and Reina safely catches the rebound.
In the 25th minute, Haas takes a free kick from the right about 10 yards into our half. He gets a bit too much on it and it sails over the head of the crowd of players around the penalty area. It looks to be going wide, but Ben Amos decides to make sure and catch the ball. It’s a catch under no pressure, but he somehow spills the ball. Sigurdsson pounces and rolls the ball into an empty net from 2 yards out. He’s unlikely to score an easier goal all season.
Haas is involved again three minutes later when he brings down Lubomir Zapotoka. Mr. Siddall decides that it warrants both a free kick and a yellow card.
Ten minutes before half time, David Bentley crosses from the right and Cenci shoots from 8 yards. Reina smothers the shot and the ball goes along the face of the goal. Alain Besse gets to the loose ball a yard out, but at a tight angle. He’s able to send the ball goalwards, but Liverpool are able to block the effort and keep their two-goal lead.
Stepanenko brings down Bentley on the halfway line in the 39th minute. Mr. Siddall blows his whistle and rushes across. He’s brandishing a card for Stepanenko. It’s red! A straight red! Stepanenko has been sent off. I was expecting a yellow card, but Mr. Siddall clearly feels it warranted more. The second game in a row where we’ve had a man advantage. Is this our way back in to the game?
There’s a chance apiece before the half time whistle. A Cenci free kick from 25 yards goes over, whilst Suarez shoots narrowly wide from 25 yards in stoppage time.
I get the troops in and look to fire them up for the second half. My words have evidently fired up Cenci, who gets his name taken by Mr. Siddall within a minute of the half starting for a foul on Samba. It’s his second booking of the season and it’s already looking likely that he’ll soon be serving a suspension.
Besse shoots from 20 yards in the 51st minute, but Reina is alert and is diving towards the ball. He gets a good hand to the ball and is able to push it wide for a corner. Suarez has a chance in the 59th minute following a cross by Lennon on the right, but his header from 10 yards goes over. Glen Johnson is booked by Mr. Siddall on the hour for a foul on Besse.
In the 63rd minute, Sigurdsson gets the ball 25 yards out. He looks up, quickly assesses his options and threads a ball through our defence. It’s perfectly weighted and Lennon runs onto it and scores from 12 yards. I respond immediately by replacing Cenci with Rainer Breu, who comes on for his debut. There seems little point in risking Cenci picking up a red card in a game beyond our reach.
Breu is involved in the action within his first five minutes. Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and Breu meets it at the near post with a header from 6 yards. He does everything right, heading it down. The only part that he gets wrong is the placement and it’s straight at Reina. He gets down well and makes a comfortable save in the end. Breu does have a chance from 20 yards in the 75th minute, but it ends up being a tame effort that dribbles wide.
Besse is booked by Mr. Siddall in the 78th minute for fouling Tevez. In the 82nd minute, Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out again. He elects to shoot again. This time it’s over the bar instead of rattling it. Before the goal kick is taken, Mick Byrne replaces Nathan Ake and the game fizzles out.
Result: Exeter City 0-3 Liverpool
Man of the Match: Sigurdsson
Ratings: GK-Amos (5.7), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-Ake (5.7, sub 82), DCL-Vukovic (6.7), DL-Riccardi (5.7), DMC-Perak (sub 1), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Bentley (6.7), AML-Besse (6.9, booked), ST-Cenci (6.7, booked, sub 64). Subs-Olivier (6.8, on 1), Breu (6.9, on 64), Byrne (on 82). Unused-Mello, Mora, Norwood, Hayes
League Position: 9th
Not too much for the faithful to cheer about unfortunately as Liverpool were very good and clinical in front of goal. A disappointing day, especially for the defence. A mistake from Amos and poor performances from Ake and Riccardi helped Liverpool’s cause and we struggled to put on any sustained pressure, even when we had the man advantage. Anything against big clubs such as Liverpool will be a bonus, but I’m hoping for better performances in the future. I think we’ll put it down to the occasion.
The physio reports on Ilica Perak after the game. He’s suffering from a fractured wrist and will be out for 6-7 weeks.
Carmine Mello is named the third best goalkeeper at the U20 World Cup. An excellent pick up on a Bosman for me and if Amos puts in many more performances like the Liverpool one, Mello will soon be getting a chance in the Premier League.
Daniel Berger rejects a loan move to Burnley. Busao agrees to his loan spell at Hereford United. Portsmouth offer to loan Miltos Makris for the season and I accept the offer. I also accept a season-long loan from Nocerina for Riccardo Greppi.
Read Growing the Grecians #84.
Read from Growing the Grecians #1.