The final game of the season and after our priceless draw at Portman Road, there’s nothing to play for; we’re up and can’t win the title, Barnsley are relegated. A chance for the fans to salute their heroes and say farewell to a player who has been very important during our stay in the Championship.
Date: Sunday 7th May 2017
Opponent: Barnsley (23rd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=Evens, Draw=11/5, Barnsley=11/5
Weather: Dry, 19C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall
Gennaro Riccardi is making his 75th career league appearance. Michel returns for Jay Spearing as we take a more attacking approach. There’s also one other change. Alain Besse makes way for Dacian Varga, who is retiring at the end of the season. He joined when we got promoted to the Championship and is making his 180th and final game for the club.
The carnival atmosphere before kick-off steps up a notch in the third minute when Federico Cenci plays in Jonny Hayes, who scores his 7th goal of the season from 12 yards. Conga lines can be seen snaking their way across the Big Bank.
Three minutes after setting up the opener, Cenci spins his marker and shoots from 18 yards. Steele dives down and is able to push the ball around the post with his fingertips. It’s certainly a strong start in front of our fans.
Varga has a chance to score in the 19th minute, but his shot from 18 yards goes wide. A minute later, Cenci plays Varga in, giving him a great chance to score on his final appearance. He shoots from 12 yards. Steele saves and the loose ball is collected by Hayes. He’s only four yards out, but it’s a tight angle. No problem. Our second and Hayes’ second (his 8th of the season) keeps the party going. What a great end to the season!
Bradley Johnson shoots from 30 yards in the 29th minute and Steele catches the ball. A minute later, Wordsworth hits a soft cross/shot from the left. Bond inexplicably fumbles the ball and Roman pulls a goal back for the visitors from a yards. The annual Christmas goalkeeping nightmares DVD has a new clip!
We look to restore our two-goal lead. Hayes crosses from the right in the 34th minute and Cenci heads just over from 8 yards. Four minutes later, Hayes passes to Cenci. He shrugs off a defender and powers his 31st goal of the season in from 16 yards. Resume the party!
The half ends with Dunne picking up a booking from Mr. Siddall three minutes before the break for a foul on Michel.
Six minutes into the second half, Oliver Norwood takes an inswinging corner. Cenci, 6 yards out at the near post, heads just over.
Barnsley start to come more into the game. Vela shoots from 12 yards in the 56th minute and Bond is forced to turn it behind for a corner. Four minutes later, Dunne shoots just over from 18 yards. The next chance falls a minute later and it falls our way. Cenci unleashes a powerful effort from 25 yards and is only denied by a full-length diving save by Steele.
In the 64th minute, Norwood makes way for Jay Spearing. Spearing’s contract is up at the end of the season, so this is likely to be his swansong in front of the fans. It doesn’t seem to have an impact on us pushing forwards; a minute later, Steele catches a 25 yard shot from Johnson.
The mood is slightly dampened in the 68th minute when Silva crosses from the right and Wordsworth brings the visitors back within one from 10 yards. It certainly spurs them on and they go looking for an equalier. Silve goes close to levelling the score in the 71st minute, but his shot goes just over.
Two minutes later, Varga plays one of his trademark defence-splitting passes. It falls to the feet of Cenci. He shoots from 12 yards, but is unable to get it on target. Wordsworth has his name taken in the 74th minute for a foul on Hayes.
In the final ten minutes, we push on to restore our two-goal lead. Hayes fires just over from 16 yards in the 80th minute. In the 88th minute, Hayes passes to Cenci and he runs into the box before shooting from 12 yards. It goes wide. It’s Cenci’s last involvement as he’s replaced with Michele Marconi before the goal kick is taken. It’s a chance for St. James Park to show their gratitude for the outstanding performances from Cenci this season that have propelled us to promotion.
The final action of note is in the 90th minute. Johnson slips in Varga. He’s 16 yards out. He places his shot and scores. A fairytale ending, scoring with what’s likely to be his final touch. I don’t know who is writing his scripts, but they couldn’t have done any better. Oh no! The linesman’s flag is up. Varga was a fraction offside. It’s disallowed. I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed by a goal being disallowed and I’m sure that all the fans feel the same way.
Result: Exeter City 3-2 Barnsley
Man of the Match: Jonny Hayes
Ratings: GK-Bond (5.8), DR-Zapotoka (6.8), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.8), DCL-Vukovic (6.8), DL-Riccardi (6.8), MCR-Norwood (6.9, sub 64), MCL-Johnson (6.7), AMR-Hayes (9.3, 2G, A), AMC-Michel (7.2), AML-Varga (7.2, A), ST-Cenci (8.6, G, A). Subs-Spearing (5.8, on 64), Marconi (on 88). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Gazzoli.
League Position: 2nd
Incredibly, despite our promotion, it’s not a sell-out. Evidently some people decided that with nothing to play for, the game would be a dull affair. It turns out they were wrong. We looked very good going forward and could (perhaps should) have had more. Barnsley also played their part in a very watchable game. Jonny Hayes’ performance earns him a place in Team of the Week.
We finish in second and receive £25,000. Brighton take the final play-off spot. The final league table looks like:
The final words must go to Dacian Varga, who has had 5 great seasons with the club. His 180 appearances saw him notch up 34 goals and 47 assists. He will be missed by all at the club.