Can we take a step closer?

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.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

Cardiff #FM12

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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…

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Chwarae i ffwrdd yn y Ddinas, Caerdydd

After a resounding victory at home, we hit the road in a midweek fixture.

Date: Tuesday 29th November 2016
Opponent: Cardiff City (9th)
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
Odds: Cardiff City=3/1, Draw=2/1, Exeter City= 4/5
Weather: Dry, 6C
Referee: Mr. Mike Dean

Three of my starting XI make a milestone appearance. Scott Malone, coming in at left back, makes his 150th career league appearance, Federico Cenci makes his 75th league appearance for us and Jonathan Bond makes his 100th league appearance for us.

Bradley Johnson looks to get us off to a flying start with a shot from 16 yards in the 4th minute, but Marshall is able to get a hand to it and Cardiff clear their lines. Two minutes later Cenci crosses from the left and finds Jonny Hayes 12 yards out. Hayes shoots, but his shot is blocked at the expense of a corner. Cardiff have a chance through Borges in the 12th minute, but Bond saves his shot from 16 yards. Bond is unable to hold on, but we’re able to clear the ball to safety. Cardiff win a corner in the 14th minute and as the ball’s coming in, Klukowski goes down. Mr. Dean has no doubt and points straight to the spot. Cenci marks his 75th league appearance for us by conceding the penalty and going into Mr. Dean’s book. Bettiol steps up. He shoots to Bond’s left. Bond guesses correctly. But Bettiol’s penalty is right in the corner and Bond can’t get a hand to it as Cardiff take the lead. We look to hit straight back and in the 17th minute, Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner. Johnson meets the ball at the near post and his header from 6 yards hits the post. The rebound falls to Luca D’Avanzo, but Cardiff clear the ball off the line for a throw. One minute later, Cenci passes from the left and Johnson crashes an effort against the bar from 20 yards and once again, Cardiff clear for a throw. We’ve certainly responded well to going a goal down and are applying plenty of pressure. Catalin Rentea crosses from the right in the 25th minute and finds Cenci at the far post, but he’s only able to head over from 12 yards. Cenci goes closer 9 minutes later with a low curling shot from 25 yards, but Marshall is just able to scramble across and tip the effort around the post for a corner. Matip takes the resulting corner and his outswinger is met by Cenci at the near post. He’s unmarked and heads in his 13th goal of the season (and 25th of his career and for us) from 6 yards. It’s well deserved for the pressure we’ve been applying. In stoppage time, Jagos Vukovic enters Mr. Dean’s book following a foul on Bettiol.

After a strong first half, we start the second half on the front foot. Cenci takes a free kick from the right in the 50th minutes and finds Vukovic unmarked and 8 yards out at the far post. He really should do much better than head over and wide. It’s the kind of chance that I hope we don’t come to rue. Two minutes later, Bettiol is 6 yards out and shoots. Bond is able to get a hand to it and we’re able to scramble the ball away for a throw. Rentea enters Mr. Dean’s book in the 57th minute following a foul on Rybus. The foul follows Spearing going down with a knock and I substitute him for Michel. Hayes becomes the 4th player into Mr. Dean’s book in the 68th minute and I replace him two minutes later with Dacian Varga. Varga looks to make an instant impact and in the 72nd minute, Cenci crosses from the right and finds Varga at the far post. He sends his effort from 8 yards back across the goal and Marshall tips the ball wide for a corner. Malone becomes the 5th name into Mr. Dean’s book in the 76th minute after a foul on Mason. One minute later, Cenci crosses from the right and this time finds Varga unmarked at the far post and 6 yards out. He heads downwards, but Marshall saves and holds. Delfouneso has a rare chance for Cardiff in the 78th minute and Bond saves his shot from 12 yards. With eight minutes to go, another outswinging Matip corner is met by the head of Cenci at the near post 6 yards out. Marshall blocks Cenci’s header and D’Avanzo turns the ball in from 3 yards for his 2nd goal of the season. It’s fair to say that Cardiff aren’t happy and surround Mr. Dean, appealing for handball. Mr. Dean waves away the protests, but his cards stay in his pocket. With one minute to go, Malone plays the ball over the top and Varga robs McNaughton. He’s 16 yards out and has a great chance to wrap up the game and points, but Marshall is able to save his shot form 16 yards at the expense of a corner. Matip takes an inswinging corner in the 90th minute and Cenci gets his head to it at the near post, but his header from 6 yards goes just wide. In the first minute of stoppage time, Delfouneso shoots from 20 yards, but it’s straight at Bond and he holds on. In the 3rd minute of stoppage time, Davies takes a free kick from the right and he finds Keinan unmarked and 10 yards out at the far post. It’s a glorious chance to rescue a point and… he heads over. The points are ours.

Result: Cardiff City 1-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Luca D’Avanzo
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Rentea (7.3, booked), DCR-D’Avanzo (7.8, G), DCL-Vukovic (7.0, booked), DL-Malone (6.9, booked), DMC-Spearing (6.7, sub 59), MCR-Matip (7.1, A), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.4, sub 70), AML-Cenci (7.6, G), ST-Marconi (6.9). Subs-Michel (6.9, on 59), Varga (6.9, on 70). Unused-Spasov, Zapotoka, Keane.
Attendance: 20,082
League Position: 1st
Match Stats:

Cardiff #FM12

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Another game, another 3 points. We were able to apply plenty of pressure, but struggled to convert chances, although Marshall made some good saves. We were perhaps fortunate that Cardiff wasted a great chance deep into stoppage time, but I’d say that we deserved the win and another three points.

It’s not all good news from the match though as the physio reports on Jay Spearing, who has picked up a hip injury. A specialist is the only course of action and he’ll be out for 2-3 months.

The end of November sees the monthly awards being announced. Player of the Month is Michele Marconi. He’s averaged 8.00 for the month and scored 5 goals in 5 games. Young Player of the Month is Jan Valkucak (Blackburn Rovers); Luca D’Avanzo comes 2nd and Federico Cenci comes 3rd. Joel Campbell (Norwich City) scores Goal of the Month. Manager of the Month is awarded to Mark Bentley (Blackburn Rovers) and I’m third. Charlie Hollet, on loan at Newport County, comes 2nd in the League 2 Young Player of the Month award.

With a month to go until the transfer window opens, the media go into overdrive. Will Keane is reported to be a transfer target for Fulham, Phillip Langer is linked with a move to Southampton, Como are reportedly interested in Sasha Chirico, Napoli are apparently poised to bid for Federico Cenci, Metodi Spasov is linked with a move to Pescara and the Rangers/Bradley Johnson story restarts.

Three is a magic number

There’s a few days between our exciting midweek clash against West Brom and our Saturday match against Cardiff. In that time, I bring Macedonian striker Ivan Trickovski on a week’s loan. Transfer rumours and reports continue, with Ponferradina’s Biel Company telling the media he wants me to sign him, whilst Manuel Gavilan is looking to leave the club, unhappy with a lack of first team football. In many a season, he would have been the first name on my teamsheet, but Michele Marconi is like Will Grigg – he’s on fire!

Saturday comes and we travel to Cardiff to take on 19th-placed Cardiff City at the Cardiff City Stadium. Despite the difference in our league positions, the bookies make us 3/1 underdogs for our trip to Wales. I make no changes to my lineup that played against West Brom, which results in Ryan Mason making his 125th career league appearance. We get off to a fast start, with Dacian Varga crossing from the left in the second minute; his cross hits a defender and the keeper is just able to get to the ball ahead of a rapidly closing Jonny Hayes. It’s an encouraging start and in the 6th minute, Mason lays the ball off to Bradley Johnson, who scores his 10th goal of the season from 18 yards to put us into an early lead. The game then settles down after our fast start, with the next action of note coming in the 23rd minute when Jagos Vukovic plays in Hayes, who hits a shot that the keeper parries. Michele Marconi picks up the rebound and rolls it into an empty net for his 19th goal of the season and 25th career goal for the club. Four minutes later, Jonny Hayes takes a free kick from the right and finds Vukovic unmarked at the far post; he rises above the outrushing keeper and heads in from 6 yards his third of the season for our third of the game. Unsurprisingly, as we’re three up inside half an hour, the game starts to peter out, with nothing of note happening in the rest of the half, although Vukovic is replaced at half time after picking up a knock The next action of note happens nine minutes into the second half when Bertin Matip takes an outswinging corner from the right; Johnson meets the ball at the near post with a header and the keeper is able to tip it onto the woodwork and Cardiff scramble it clear. Cardiff also come close to scoring from a corner in the 76th minute, but Jonathan Bond is alert and tips the ball over for another corner. Cardiff going close seems to inspire us and three minutes later, Varga looks for a lob from 20 yards, but scoops it over the bar. Jones strikes a free kick from 30 yards that goes just over in the 86th minute and Eagles hits the post a minute later (although the linesman does raise his flag for offside), but it’s too little too late. Whilst I could be disappointed that we didn’t kick on from the opening half an hour, I’ll never be unhappy with a 3-0 away victory (although the majority of the 16,282 in attendance will be less happy). Jonny Hayes is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.3 and 2 assists.

Post-game, the physio reports that Jagos Vukovic has suffered a strained wrist and will be about for 11-14 days. Nottingham Forest, who are 14th in the league, sack Kenny Jackett and my name is linked with the job, but Mike Phelan is the favourite, which is confirmed a few days later when they appoint him as their new manager. Three more trialists arrive: Uruguayan striker Carlos Maria Tabarez (2 weeks), Tunisian central midfielder Nabib Zouaghi (1 week) and Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini. Peter Zlatinov, who is retiring at the end of the season, leaves his agent, Stanislav Ganchev. Torquay United offer to loan Martin Brandt for a month, which I accept and he agrees to go there. Whilst on the subject of loans, I welcome three players back: Dominik Masek from Wycombe, Clement Baud from Leyton Orient and Konstantin Manov for Yeovil, with Manov announcing that he enjoyed his loan spell and felt that he learnt a lot. I also discover out opponents for the FA Cup Fifth Round as Southampton beat Coventry City in their replay.