Party at the Park

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.
Attendance: 8,648
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

Barnsley #FM12

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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:

Table #FM12

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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.

Varga retires #FM12

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Can’t tyke much more

After a dull draw at home, we head back on our travels as we seek to get back to winning ways.

Date: Saturday 17th December 2016
Opponent: Barnsley (24th)
Venue: Oakwell
Odds: Barnsley=4/1, Draw=5/2, Exeter City=4/7
Weather: Breezy, 8C
Referee: Mr. Mike Dean

Although we’re away from home, playing the team bottom of the league seems an excellent chance to get back to winning ways. Michele Marconi is making his 200th career league appearance, so a couple of goals from him in a comfortable win would seem to be the perfect way of marking his milestone.

Barnsley make the better start and in the 16th minute, Rossi looks to chip Jonathan Bond from 20 yards. He lifts the ball over Bond, but also over the bar. Twelve minutes later, Bradley Johnson fouls Vela and has his name taken by Mr. Dean. Mr. Dean’s book is in action again two minutes later when Rossi fouls Lubomir Zapotoka. Our first chance of note comes in the 32nd minute when Jonny Hayes crosses from the right. He finds Federico Cenci at the far post, but his header from 6 yards goes wide. It’s a great chance and one I hope we don’t come to regret. Silva hits a thunderous effort from 8 yards in the 39th minute. Either side of Bond and it’s a goal. He puts it to Bond’s left, but a stunning reflex save keeps the scores level. Silva does find the net 2 minutes later, but the linesman’s flag is up. We seem to be hanging on and hopefully we can hang on until half time. We can’t. Roman crosses from the right in the 45th minute and the ball hits D’Avanzo; it falls to Rossi and he makes no mistake from 6 yards.

My half time words don’t have an instant impact, with our first chance of note of the half coming in the 64th minute. Chance is actually being quite generous as Marconi’s effort from 20 yards is well over the bar. I make a double substitution before the goal kick is taken – Will Keane replaces Marconi, whilst Jan Pavlov is replaced by Michel as I replace our defensive midfielder with an attacking one as we seek an equaliser. Three minute later, Hayes shoots from the same range as Marconi. His shot doesn’t go over – it goes wide AND over. Scott Malone enters Mr. Dean’s book in the 69th minute following a foul on Hunt. Mills looks to extend Barnsley’s lead and wrap up the points in the 73rd minute, but Bond is able to tip his effort from 12 yards around the post for a corner. Michel manages to keep his shot from 20 yards down in the 75th minute, but he’s unable to get it on target and it goes wide. With 10 minutes to go, I bring on Dacian Varga for Malone as we seek an equaliser, but we can’t create anything further.

Result: Barnsley 1-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Hunt
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.8), DCL-Vukovic (6.8), DL-Malone (6.2, booked, sub 80), DMC-Pavlov (6.7, sub 64), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.7, booked), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Cenci (6.9), ST-Marconi (5.8, sub 64). Subs-Michel (6.7, on 64), Keane (6.4, on 64), Varga (on 80). Unused-Spasov, Rentea.
Attendance: 8,995
League Position: 1st
Match Stats:

Barnsley #FM12

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A toothless performance against the side bottom of the league. We didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create chances, never mind any concerted pressure. It’s a third game without scoring as well and we’ve suddenly gone from scoring quite freely to being incredibly goal shy.

Bradley Johnson’s booking is his fifth of the season and he will be suspended for the next game.

It’s a time of news at right back. Victor Fernandez (the manager of Betis) was in attendance and the media are reporting that he was scouting Lubomir Zapotoka. Dennis Judge tears his hamstring in training and will be out for three months.

In the wider footballing world, Gareth Southgate takes the job at Rotherham. Goal.com reports that Christian Bruls will join us for £475,000. As with Sciacca, he isn’t on my shortlist (although is much closer to my price range).

Good news with 4, bad news with 4

After our 2-0 victory against Blackburn, we travel to Yorkshire to take on 18th-placed Barnsley as 13/8 underdogs. Two changes are made, with Michel and Jonny Hayes taking their regular starting spots back from Ryan Mason and Federico Cenci respectively. As Cenci and Mason both scored in our 2-0 victory over Blackburn, there’s pressure on Hayes and Michel to perform. In the 3rd minute, Michel slides in Hayes, who finishes from 8 yards for his 14th goal of the season to silence the majority of the 14,921 in attendance. Phew, changes justified! Despite having little to play for, Barnsley hit back in the 8th minute when Vaz Te crosses from the right and Wordsworth makes no mistake with a header from 6 yards. Three minutes later, Ramou enters the referee’s notebook for a foul on Varga. Michel is orchestrating the play and in the 16th minute, he plays in Varga, who shoots wide from 16 yards. Despite the entertaining start, that concludes the action of note in the first half.

Two minutes into the second half, Michel slides in Michele Marconi and he makes no mistake from 12 yards to register his 24th goal of the season as we take the lead again. Hopefully it won’t be like our game against Peterborough when they were able to peg us back twice. Bradley Johnson enters the book in the 55th minute for a foul on Vaz Te. Two minutes after Johnson’s booking, Varga crosses from the left and finds Michel, who passes in his 8th goal of the season from 12 yards to extend our lead. With the points seemingly wrapped up, Cenci and Jay Spearing come on for Michel and Johnson respectively. Butorac goes close for the hosts in the 75th minute, but his shot from 8 yards goes wide, with Goodwillie going wide from double the distance 3 minutes later. Ten minutes from time, Marconi goes off injured and Aiman Mustafa replaces him. In the second minute of stoppage time, Varga crosses from the left and finds the head of Hayes at the far post – Hayes puts the exclamation mark on the victory with a header from 8 yards for his 2nd of the game and 15th of the season. Michel is names Man of the Match with a rating of 9.1, a goal and 2 assists.

The three points means that we stay 4th and are guaranteed a play-off place with a game to go. Newcastle join us in being guaranteed a play-off place, whilst at the other end of the table, Swansea are relegated. However, it’s not all good news for us as the physio reports back on Marconi; it’s a torn calf muscle and he’ll be out for 4-5 months. Catalin Rentea does return to full training though. Muamar Tankovic returns from his lean spell at Bournemouth and Daniel Paxton returns from his loan at Crewe. Jonny Hayes and Michel both feature in Team of the Week, whilst the end of the month sees awards being made: Jay Rodriguez of Watford is Player of the Month, Souleymane Coulibaly of West Bromwich Albion is Young Player of the Month and Derek McInnes of West Bromwich Albion is Manager of the Month. We do claim a couple of seconds, with Gennaro Riccardi coming second in the Young Player of the Month award and I’m behind McInnes for Manager of the Month. In League 2, Rob McNally (on loan at Morecambe) is named Young Player of the Month.