Four games left. Six points ahead of third. As outstanding as we were against Derby, it was still only worth three points. Blackburn’s win means that the gap stays at six points, although there is now one game less for them to overhaul us. A win in our last mid-week game would be a huge step for us.
Date: Tuesday 18th April 2017
Opponent: Cardiff City (11th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=5/4, Draw=11/5, Cardiff City=7/4
Weather: Dry, 8C
Referee: Mr. Howard Webb
Federico Cenci returns from his suspension and is straight back in to the starting line-up. It’s perhaps harsh on Michele Marconi (who is relegated to the bench) as he was outstanding last time out, but Cenci has been consistently excellent and lethal in front of goal. Cenci’s return marks his 100th league appearance. Jay Spearing makes way for Michel as I select a more attacking line-up in a home game.
The enforced lay-off seems to have had little impact on Cenci and he’s soon involved. The third minute to be precise. He passes to Jonny Hayes, who runs into the area and shoots from 12 yards. Marshall saves and pushes it away. Alain Besse is switched on and picks up the rebound 6 yards out. A dream start as the net ripples. But wait. He’s only found the side netting! The angle was a little tight, but he really should have done better with that. We can’t afford to waste chances and I hope we’re not going to be punished for it.
A minute later, Hayes crosses from the right and Michel shoots from 8 yards. Again, Marshall is unable to hold on, but Cardiff have had a wake-up call and reach this rebound first, clearing upfield. All the way up to Delfouneso. Who could counter if Bertin Matip doesn’t bring him down. Which he does. Mr. Webb is not impressed and takes Matip’s name.
Quarter of an hour in and things are going ok; we’ve had the only two chances and Marshall looks slightly jittery, so hopefully we can capitalise on that at some point. Lubomir Zapotoka has the ball and gifts it to Delfouneso. He’s in with only Jonathan Bond to beat. He shoots from 16 yards and puts it wide. A huge let off and it arguably equals up the luck after Besse missed in the 6th minute.
Delfouneso goes closer two minutes later. Much closer. His header from 10 yards beats Bond and hits the bar. We’re able to react and put the ball behind for a corner, but Cardiff are certainly coming in to the game. Bruls finds our side netting from 8 yards in the 19th minute and I’m starting to get concerned at the chances that Cardiff are creating. A goal from us would help ease my nerves somewhat…
25 minutes in and Marshall takes a goal kick. Bradley Johnson meets it with a powerful header and Besse is on to it in a flash. He’s clear of all defenders and closing in on Marshall. Hopefully he can show more composure than he did 19 minutes ago. He elects to shoot from 18 yards. It’s under Marshall. It’s in! His 6th goal of the season has put us in the lead. A vital goal after some pressure from Cardiff.
Six minutes later, Delfouneso fires low from 16 yards, forcing Bond to get down quickly and well to concede a corner. Hayes shoots from 12 yards three minutes later, but Marshall doesn’t have to save as it’s not on target. Ibrahim Dagasan enters Mr. Webb’s book in the 37th minute. On the stroke of half time, Bertin Matip is forced to go off injured and Jay Spearing comes on to replace him.
Matip’s injury is a loss as he was on corner duty for us. Michel takes his place and three minutes into the second half, an inswinger is flicked on by Johnson at the near post. It’s going in until the Cardiff defender on the far post clears it off the line. Hayes also goes close to extending our lead in the 57th minute when he shoots from 12 yards, but a spectacular diving save from Marshall pushes the ball over the bar for a corner.
A inswinging corner 4 minutes later sees us double our lead. Michel’s corner is met by Cenci 6 yards out at the near post and Bruls panics, putting it into his own net. It’s a really important goal as it gives us a cushion. A six point lead with three games to go is an excellent position to be in.
Dunk enters Mr. Webb’s book in the 65th minute for a foul on Hayes. With 19 minutes to go, Johnson lifts the ball over the top. Hayes runs on to it and unleashes a volley from 12 yards. It’s a difficult skill to pull off and he doesn’t manage to do it successfully unfortunately, volleying wide. It’s turns out to be the end of Hayes’ involvement as I replace him with Adriano Gazzoli on the right wing in the 72nd minute after Bruls has his name taken by Mr. Webb for fouling Besse.
Our stroll to victory is interrupted in the 75th minute when an outswinging Sosvic corner is headed over by Dunk from 10 yards. A reminder that’s it’s not over yet. And unfortunately a reminder we don’t take heed of. With 10 minutes to go, Jones lifts a ball over the top and Cowie, beating the offside trap, runs on to it and scores from 16 yards. Game on. I’ll be incredibly disappointed if we throw away a two-goal lead in the last 10 minutes.
The Cardiff goal acts a wake-up call. Within a minute of them scoring, Johnson hits the post from 16 yards. Michel shoots just wide two minutes later. Seconds after Michel has shot wide, the ball is in the Cardiff area again as we pile on the pressure. Dunk brings down Cenci and Mr. Webb has no hesitation in pointing to the spot and giving Dunk his second yellow card and marching orders. The man advantage should see us home, but if Cenci can tuck the penalty away, I will feel much more confident. He steps up. The crowd holds its breath. It’s low to Marshall’s right. It’s in! St. James Park erupts! Three more valuable points in our quest for promotion. It’s Cenci’s 28th goal of the season.
Cardiff go close to pulling one back in the 87th minute when a free kick 30 yards out from Jones cannons off our bar, but we’re able to see the game out and have the final chance in the 89th minute when Gazzoli shoots wide from 25 yards. Delfouneso finds his name in Mr. Webb’s book in the second minute of stoppage time for a foul on Zapotoka. The crowd aren’t baying for another red, being happy celebrating another victory.
Result: Exeter City 3-1 Cardiff City
Man of the Match: Alain Besse
Ratings: GK-Bond (7.0), DR-Zapotoka (7.2), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.0), DCL-Vukovic (7.4), DL-Riccardi (7.1), MCR-Matip (6.9, booked, sub 45), MCL-Johnson (7.5, A), AMR-Hayes (6.6, sub 71), AMC-Michel (6.8), AML-Besse (8.0, G), ST-Cenci (7.6, G). Subs-Spearing (6.9, on 45), Gazzoli (6.7, on 71). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Marconi.
League Position: 2nd
Another welcome win. It was important to build on the momentum from our big win at Derby and I was concerned that we might have had a ‘hangover’ performance in mid-week, but no sign of it. A nervy couple of minutes towards the end, but Cenci was able to calm them quickly with his well-taken penalty.
Bertin Matip picked up a thigh strain and will be out for 2 weeks, so that’s his season over unless I play him in the final game a couple of days after recovery. If required, I will. Hopefully I won’t need to.
We welcome back Karl Chaplin from his loan spell at Bristol Rovers and Miroslav Smejkal from his loan at Cambridge.
With three games to go, Crystal Palace become the first team to be relegated to League One. At the other end of the table, Birmingham City secure their promotion to the Premier League. Our win against Cardiff turns out to be a massive one for us as Blackburn only managed a draw. With three games to go, we have an eight point advantage over them. We could join Birmingham in the Premier League and be promoted as soon as Saturday…