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23:41 31st March 2009

Exeter City 1 Port Vale 0

So on a still and unchilly night at the Park, 4235 supporters find out that it really is third time lucky as City serve up a cracking performance to defeat Port Vale 1-0 thanks to Luke Prosser's own goal. City lined up: Jones; Edwards, Seaborne, Archibald-Henville, Moxey, Gill, Stewart, Cozic, Sercombe; Stansfield, Fleetwood.
Playing a by now familiar 3-5-2 system, it was City who were quickest off the mark and into their stride. No surprise really given that they played what must be one of the quickest front pairings ever seen at the Park with Stansfield and home debutant Stuart Fleetwood leading the line. As it was, it took barely two minutes for City to register their first interest on the Vale goal when Stans cut the ball in from the left to Cozic in the box. Bertie miskicked, but recovered well enough to lay the ball off to Stewart who amongst a crowd of players took two bites of the cherry to lift the ball over the bar from 15 yards.
In the twelfth minute Stewart sent Stans scurrying into the box with a defender in close proximity. Stans cut back inside and scuffed a shot goalwards that took a deflection forcing the keeper to adjust well to save. But with City continuing to dominate, who could legislate for Seaborne's rush of blood to the head in the 20th minute? Already on a booking for a rash lunge earlier, he smashed the ball high into the Flybe stand clearly a couple of seconds after the ref had blown the whistle for an infringement by Deano near the touchline. Despite a hail of protests from three sides of the ground, the ref had little option but to issue a second yellow for Seaborne's misdemeanours meaning his colleagues had to battle it out for the remaining 70 minutes with only ten men.
But battle they did, and rather well too, reverting to a 4-3-2 formation with the two wing backs - Moxey and Sercombe - dropping back to conventional full backs, still with license to get forward at every opportunity though, and the two remaining central defenders - Troy AH and Edwards - filling in in the middle of a flat back four. It worked as well, and despite being a man shy City pressed forward and always looked the more likely to take the lead.
They almost did two minutes later when Stansfield sent Fleetwood darting into the box where his low drive was gathered by the keeper at the second attempt. But then with the half hour approaching City's forceful approach to the game paid off when they took the lead, albeit in slightly unexpected circumstances. The ball was played to Stans down the left and he drilled a superb cross along the six yard line to the rushing Fleetwood. Unable to convert, the ball sped through to the unfortunate Luke Prosser at the far post who could only succeed in guiding the ball past his own keeper to make it 1-0 to City.
City kept up the pressure though, and were keen for a second. On the half hour a surging Bertie run through the middle ended with Fleetwood's shot being well smothered at the near post by the Vale keeper, and in the final action of a pulsating and high tempo first half, Sercombe surged down the right before playing the ball in to Stans who sent a low drive across the keeper that he did well to palm away for a corner.
But just as we got our breath back it was time for the second half, and as with the first City came storming out carrying on where they left off. Inside ten minutes a quick free kick sent Fleetwood into the box, but as he shaped to shoot a couple of defenders stood big to block for a corner. A minute later Stewart set off on a driving run and let fly with a fierce shot that was deflected for yet another corner - how many was that by now?
On the quarter hour it was Bertie's turn to emulate Stewart with a run from deep but somehow the defence managed to smuggle the ball back to the keeper. Deano rushed in and charged down the clearance, but instead, as we hoped, of finding it's way into the net it screwed away to the right for a throw in. Bertie was again involved 60 seconds later, although unfortunately he miskicked Fleetwood's cut back after bursting into the box from nowhere.
However, despite City's near total dominance and Port Vale's complete inability to test Jones in any way whatsoever, the lead was still only one goal, and keen to make amends for his own goal, Prosser showed just how fragile that lead could be when midway through the half he let fly with a ferocious drive from distance that clipped the outside of the post with Jones just a bemused spectator.
City were also given a real let off with the half hour approaching. Danny Glover burst through from the half way line with Troy hot on his heels. As Glover lined one up, Troy stretched out a leg - it was either going to be the save of the century or a penalty and a second red card - and guided the ball back to Jones, who as he picked it up was clattered very late by Glover. Now I'm sure it was a back pass and as such a free kick to Vale, but it seems in his haste to admonish Glover, the ref missed the back pass and awarded a free kick to City for the foul on Jones.
The ref evened things up though a minute later when Vale left back Paul Edwards miscontrolled the ball - for the umpteenth time - just inside his own area and it sprang up to strike him on the forearm. Seemingly the only two people not to see it in the ground were the ref and his assistant down the Flybe side, so it was no penalty and play on.
And play on they did until about eight minutes from time when Fleetwood - to rapturous applause - was replaced by Logan. Vale were beginning to get a bit more of the ball then we would have liked them to, and beginning to finally make the extra man tell, but even so in the dying seconds Stansfield almost sealed it with an outrageous dipping 35 yard drive that a furiously backtracking keeper did well to tip over the bar, and that was it for Stans, as once again a standing ovation followed his departure for the inclusion of McAllister for about ten or so seconds.
But what a cracker of a game, and a cracker of a performance from City. Straight at Vale right from the off, they never gave them a second's peace nor any time to build on anything, plus, today, there was no interest in scoring just the one - from start to finish they boys were looking to attack attack attack. And thus it was that Jones didn't really have an awful lot to do. As is the norms these days his kicks - one aside - were straight and true and rarely was he in trouble. Well, except for the one he watched crash onto his left hand post that is!
In front of him the back four were masterly, and despite giving us a few moments, Troy and Edwards dealt fairly comfortably with the Vale attack. As did Deano and Sercombe out wide, and it was good to see both still venturing forward as often as possible after Seaborne's dismissal too. In the middle it was good to see Cozic given a start and adding a bit of steel in there too. Booked early on - ridiculously so for apparently diving - he never let it bother him and continued to play full on as we love to see him do. It was no surprise that he was awarded the Man of the Match award, although he was pushed close by the peerless grace of Gill and intelligent marauding of Stewart.
And speaking of marauding what a debut Fleetwood had. A constant thorn in the Port Vale defence's side, he never stopped running, chasing and harassing, and at break neck speed too. Had he been a little more composed he might well have helped himself to a couple of goals, but if he continues to perform like today then surely it's only a matter of time. The same can be said of Stansfield too - would you fancy trying to deal with those two - and between them they were the catalyst for the win by never giving the defence an easy time and properly defending from the front.
So now what? Well, up to fifth tonight, and then home to Dagenham on Saturday. We have an excellent opportunity to make a real mark on this year's promotion race, and automatic promotion, not just a play-off spot, is still a very real possibility. We've already beaten the Daggers earlier this season at their place, then we travel to the league leaders Brentford before welcoming another promotion hopeful Wycombe to the Park. There's not many games after that, so try and get to as many as you can and be that twelfth man for the lads. They really appreciate it, and after such a battling performance tonight they deserve nothing less than a battling vocal performance from us on the terraces. Can we do it? Who can tell, but what better way of finding out than by packing the Park for these final few fixtures in what's proving to be one of the best seasons in decades.
Bring it on, and see you there.
    Data provided by Press Association