Thursday, September 29, 2022

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Football Away Days- Exeter City and St James Park

St James Park (Exeter City)

With the removal of pandemic-related restrictions and the emergence of the sun, the everyday mood has lifted for a lot of people in the UK. Bearing this in mind, the setting was perfect for our 2nd football away day of the 2021/22 season, as a smaller than usual group made the journey south to visit Exeter City. A team flying near the top of League Two and looking to secure automatic promotion in the slipstream of runaway leaders, and the scene of one of our previous journeys, Forest Green Rovers.

 

 

The opponents were relegation battlers Stevenage F.C. Third from bottom of the table, they had sacked Paul Tisdale just 10 days before, a manager who is still well revered by the locals after having been in charge of The Grecians for twelve long years (2006-2018). During his tenure he got the club promoted back into the football league and followed that up the very next season by reaching League One (in 2009). Their stay in the third tier of English football lasted for three seasons and whilst Tisdale went on to lead Exeter to the League Two play-off final twice, both times they just failed to regain their League One status.

 

Sadly, with Tisdale now gone, we were to miss out on this reunion. Instead, the new man in charge is Steve Evans (formerly of Rotherham and Leeds) and we got to see his 1st outing as the new boss which, unbeknownst to us, was to be a source of some amusement during the ninety minutes that followed.

 

St Well's Pub ExeterWhilst only the three of us could commit to this trip, come the end of the day we were all in agreement that this had been one of the most enjoyable football away days so far. Compared to our last two excursions the getting there was a lot less arduous, with a direct train bringing us in to Exeter St Davids, although, in hindsight we could have got to a station right next to the stadium. Then again, finding your way to the football ground and bumping into home fans and other sights are all a part of the away day experience.

 

After asking one such fan where they'd recommend getting a pre-game pint, we followed his directions, as he marched on ahead, to the St Anne's Well pub. A drinking establishment that was calm and pleasant, within 500 yards of St James Park and served a decent enough array of beer, ales and cider.

 

With kick-off approaching fast, we quick-marched back to and up around the side of St James Park to find the Centre Spot bar for a swift pint before the stroke of 3pm. Inside there was a great additional bar, set up like a beer festival with barrels on their side, called the Exeter City Real Ale and Cider Emporium. A £1 deposit was paid for one of the strangest beer vessels I've ever used, where the handle looked like it could hold a shot of something stronger! From there we reached our seats in time, in the middle of the IP Office main stand, just a few rows back from the away team dugout. A perfect position for the action, opposite the still new Stagecoach Adam Stansfield Stand and the view over Exeter that comes with the unique space due to the nearby railway line.

Exeter City pint 

Despite the gap between the two sides in the table, the game started off fairly evenly with no really clear-cut chances to show for the opening 27 minutes. At this point the defender Josh Key received a sideways pass that left him with plenty of space to run onto in the middle of the pitch, with a little encouragement from the home crowd he let fly with a low drive from 25 yards that Christy Pym, the former Exeter goalkeeper, did well to tip away at full stretch.

 

The resulting corner was an outswinger by Jevani Brown to the centre of the 6 yard box. There it was met by a thunderous header from the Exeter centre-back Sam Stubbs, who charged between the two Stevenage defenders as if they weren't there, the ball slamming into the back of the net for 1-0. At this point it felt like the Grecians might grab the game by the scruff of the neck, but in fairness to the away side they found a response and equalised just 10 minutes later. A free-kick from just inside their own half saw a knock-on that found Elliot List on the edge of the penalty area, he wriggled his way past the defenders into the right hand side and delivered a low pass that evaded everyone across the face of the goal apart from Luke Norris. The Stevenage forward ghosted his way into the far post and his clever finish made it 1-1.

 

As half-time approached it looked like the break would see the teams all-square, but in the 44th minute another Jevani Brown corner (an inswinger this time) found another Sam Stubbs header, which he planted into the roof of the net to make it 2-1. Steve Evans and the Stevenage players were angrily adamant that Stubbs had fouled Luke Prosser by climbing on him to reach the ball. Having watched it back it's clear they had a legitimate grievance but, not to sound too much like Roy Keane here, maybe the defender should have been aware of Stubbs behind him and made an effort to leap and fight for the ball himself!

 

At the break I took the advice of my two mates to try the pork roll with crackling and apple sauce, as supplied by KennifordKenniford Farm pork roll Farm Kitchen. In hindsight the £5.50 spent was very reasonable, having tried quite a lot of food at various football away days now (the hotdog at Swansea still offends me!), this may well have been the best I've had so far. With this lunch demolished, I was ready and waiting for the second half.

 

The next 45 minutes were to see no more goals, but there was still plenty of action, and laughs. A few rows in front of us was a fan who kept on speaking up with sarcastic words of discouragement for the beleaguered Steve Evans, the best example being early in the 2nd half when in a lull in play he shouted out, "Steve, Steve! I think Paul is the problem!" (a reference to Evans' long-time companion and assistant manager- Paul Raynor).

 

For the rest of the game Exeter went through periods of asserting themselves but not quite grabbing a 3rd goal, whilst Stevenage had the odd moment when they threatened to equalise once more. The most glorious chance for either side came in the 54th minute, Jevani Brown was involved once again, evading a sliding tackle to surge into the Stevenage penalty box and slide a pass across from the right, but sadly Matt Jay skewed his rolled finish wide from less than 10 yards out.

 

As for Boro, their best chance to level the scores came right near the death. The ball broke for Bruno Andrade on the left who surged into the box, and with Pierce Sweeney bearing down on him he fired off a strong, angled shot that Dawson parried over the crossbar. That was that, Exeter maintained their promotion chase and Stevenage are still worried about relegation. As for Steve Evans, he will have seen enough to think he can keep the club up, and he won't have to deal with a consistent heckler every weekend!

 

After the game one of our party was so won over by this latest football away day that he purchased a scarf from the club shop (he's usually a Manchester City fan, so draw your own conclusions). And there was still time before the train home to make our way slowly back to the station via the high street, where we found a decent pub/bar that brew their own beer on site, called The Turks Head.

 

So, a good day out, and everyone was in agreement that this would be a trip to be repeated next season, amongst our other away day plans to visit grounds for the 1st time. If things carry on as they are (fingers crossed), we should see the Grecians back in League One and ready for a new challenge.

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