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10:03 1st March 2009

Exeter City 2 Darlington 0

So on a crisp and still afternoon at the Park, City eventually run out deserved 2-0 winners against opening day opponents Darlington in front of an impressive 4851 supporters. City lined up: Jones; Edwards, Taylor, Archibald-Henville; Moxey, Russell, Gill, Saunders; Stansfield, Stewart, Basham.
Once again manager Tisdale adopted a fluid 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation with new boy Alex Russell slotting into the centre of midfield with Marcus Stewart playing an advanced midfield role just behind the strike pairing of Stansfield and Basham. And it was City who enjoyed the lion's share of the opening exchanges and had the first real chance of the game when Bash smashed a close range drive back across goal and wide of the far post from a good looking Deano ball from the left.
It was fully 20 minutes before the next chance materialised as the game got bogged down in niggly free kicks from a very petty referee, and also from City - despite oodles of possession and slick passing - being unable to break down a massed Darlo defensive formation. But eventually they did fashion a chance when Deano robbed dawdling defender Burgmeier just inside the corner of the box. As Deano looked to advance on goal he was hauled to the floor by Burgmeier where inexplicably the ref waved play on despite howls for a penalty from three sides of the ground and all the players. How it wasn't a penalty is a complete mystery to everyone except the ref - why would Deano throw himself to the turf for someone else to convert when he was in on goal himself? Bizarre.
But with City rattled they failed to properly get back into their stride and with Darlo content to sit back and soak up the pressure it was something of a welcome relief to hear the half time whistle.
With the second half soon underway it didn't take long for City to register their first real effort of the half. A mere six minutes had expired when Matt Gill sent over a wicked long, flat throw that was nodded on for Bash to lash an extravagant volley high onto the Big Bank from about 15 yards.
Midway though the half Tis made a double substitution of Logan and McAllister for Stansfield and Stewart, and two minutes later it almost paid off. More sustained pressure ended with a huge hanging cross from deep from Troy AH being nodded straight to the keeper by Logan.
But with ten minutes to go City eventually were rewarded for their near thirty five minute encampment inside the Darlo half. A corner was cleared but only as far as Gill 25 yards out who immediately headed it straight back in. A Darlo hand stuck out to deflect the ball and this time the ref had no option but to point to the spot as three sides of the ground, the bench, the office staff out the back, the bar staff in the Spot and everyone associated with the Grecians the world over rose in unison to bawl 'PENALTY' in one single voice.
As Darlo complained, Gill kept a cool head and placed the ball on the spot. When the ref was finally ready Gill stepped up to smash the ball waist height to the keeper's left just inside the post. The keeper got fingertips to it, but the shot had far to much power on it as it ripped into the back of the net for a thoroughly deserved 1-0 scoreline.
A minute later, with Gill on fire, he let fly from miles out with a venomous daisy cutter that the keeper couldn't hold. McAllister got to the rebound, but unbelievably succeeded only in scuffing his shot wide. He showed enough presence to go after his own poor shot and drilled a low cross to the far post where Logie's outstretched boot missed the ball by millimetres with the goal gaping.
Two minutes later Macca flicked the ball on to Saunders who clipped a delicious ball over the defence to Bash lurking deep towards the far post. Bash's glancing header however didn't match the move as it drifted wastefully wide.
With five minutes to go Deano got down the left and whipped in a peach of a cross where a diving Logie met it full on two yards out, but he could on look on in a mixture of horror and wonderment as the Darlo keeper got down to produce a stunning point blank save that was truly world class. But from the resulting corner the ball fell to Russell patrolling the edge of the D who intelligently played it back to Deano near the corner flag. He drove in a doosy of an inswinger that McAllister rose to meet perfectly and power a header home from 10 yards to make it 2-0 to City as the place went berserk as much in relief at sealing the win as in celebration of the goal.
Darlo's woes were compounded further in the dying seconds when Logie was clattered out wide on the half way line by Alan White giving the ref little choice but award White his second yellow and dismissal from the game. With three minutes of stoppage time looming, the impressive Troy AH was replaced by Sercombe and without further ado the clock was run down and the game won.
And a pretty good victory it was too. Although the action was a bit thin on the ground in the first half, it was City who dominated possession and passed the ball around with aplomb. Darlo worked hard to keep City out, but hardly troubled Jones with weak efforts that your average U10s player would handle comfortably.
Speaking of Jones, he appears to be in a rich vein of form with a near faultless display today. Crisp handling and good distribution gave the back three the confidence to stroke it about amongst themselves until they were happy to play it forward.
In the middle it was a decent enough debut from Russell, and although unspectacular, it's not fair to judge a player's performance - especially in such a critical position - when he's only been here for a couple of days so far. As for the rest of the midfield it was a typical bullish and driving performance from Gill, and along with tireless running of Deano and the intelligent probing of Basham it was a tough decision as to who my man of the match would be.
In the end I chose Bash - despite that almost comical header when it seemed easier to score - as along with Gill it was him who brought it all together and made all the moves work. Well done to Stansfield today too for some terrific running and energy, paving the way for the later inclusion of McAllister and Logan to wreak havoc amongst a tiring defence.
So where to from here? Well up to fifth for a start, then tricky trips to Shrewsbury on Tuesday and Luton on Saturday. both are winnable, but then again both are losable too, but if we play like we can - either in getting stuck in and grinding out a result or with free flowing football - and can gain a favourable points return then back to back home games against Bournemouth and Bradford could see us right up there in the automatic promotion places.
Exciting times then, and for the most part exciting football too. It's a great time to be a City fan, although you know this because you continue to turn out in great numbers both home and away. Make sure you keep it up over the coming weeks and roar the boys on like you know you can - back to back promotions? Why not - it's a tough ask but when it all clicks it's hard to see why not. Make sure you're there to see for yourself, I mean, you can't really have something better to do can you?
    Data provided by Press Association