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12:27 29th March 2010

Exeter City 2 Walsall 1

So on a warm and sunny afternoon perfect for football, City ease themselves out of the relegation zone with a fine 2-1 win over Walsall in front of a noisy 5887 spectators. City lined up: Jones; Edwards, Taylor, Duffy; Friend, Harley, Sercombe, Dunne, Tully; Stewart, Corr.

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With their tails up from their fine recent form, it was no surprise that it was City who started the game the liveliest, taking barely a minute to register their first interest on goal when from a corner Friend and Stewart played a neat one-two before Friend drove low to the near post from close range that the keeper did well to block with his legs.

But City's fine start didn't begin and end in the first minute as they kept pressing forward. In the fourth minute City had another corner on the left that this time Harley swung deep to the far post where captain fantastic Matt Taylor found himself with both time and space to butt home a powerful header from close range that squeezed between keeper and post to give City a 1-0 first half lead for the first time since the defeat of Leeds back in mid January.

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They could have extended their lead in the tenth minute too, Duffy's swinging ball from deep finding Dunne unmarked in the box where his glance was too fine and straight at the keeper when surely a little more on it would have seen a goal.

On the quarter hour again City were on the attack with Tully this time providing the cross in from the right. Stewart raced in at the far post and got his boot to it, but couldn't do any more than deflect the ball narrowly wide of the post.

City looked as though they might rue their flurry of early chances as Walsall came back strongly and began to enjoy more of the possession and more of the play. Indeed the longer the half went on the more likely it looked as though they would equalize rather than City get a second, but against the run of play on the half hour City had a wonderful chance for what would have been a wonderful goal when Tully's cross from the right was whipped in at a ferocious pace where Corr met it full on eight yards out to turn a spectacular airborne volley just the wrong side of the post.

Jones' first real call into action came with ten minutes of the half remaining. After a series of corners a forward stationed on the corner of the box sent a fierce low drive into a melee of players where it was deflected towards the bottom corner, but Jones was alert to the danger and got down well to turn the ball round his near post.

But probably the best chance of the half fell to Harley right on the whistle. Tully's hanging ball was controlled majestically by Harley in the middle of the box with the defence nowhere and wondering why he wasn't offside. Harley played the ball under the outrushing keeper who took enough sting off the ball to allow a defender to hack clear off the line when for all the world it looked as though a second goal was there.

But in the end it was something of a relief that the half time whistle came as Walsall were getting more dominant the longer the half went on. At the restart it was much the same as the first half with City enjoying the lion's share of the opening exchanges. With only five minutes gone Harley broke from a Walsall attack with only Dunne for company. The two exchanged passes but Dunne's return was a little on the heavy side and the chance went begging as Walsall backtracked furiously.

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In the tenth minute again a Walsall attack was broken up with ball being played to Harley advancing down the middle. He laid the ball off to Tully to his right, but his 25 yard drive was always drifting wide.

But two minutes later, and in controversial fashion, City had a second. With Corr and a defender tangling for a Duffy ball dinked forward, the two tumbled to the ground just inside the box. The lino flagged furiously as the ref pointed to the spot, then continued to flag until the ref went over for a long conversation.. Eventually he pointed to the spot for a penalty similar to the one Valencia was awarded for Manchester United against Liverpool the other week - where did the foul start, was it inside or outside the box? It was very difficult to say with any certainty, but the ref was convinced so a penalty it was.

Despite Marcus Stewart being on the pitch and Ryan Harley having missed his previous penalty in the draw with Oldham recently, it was Harley who stepped up to take the kick. With no little nonchalance and an awful lot of cool, Harley confidently lifted the ball over the keeper's dive and straight down the middle to make it 2-0 to City.

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Walsall's response was immediate with a blistering free kick right on the edge of the box blasted straight at the wall. The rebound fell kindly but this was smashed over the bar and into the travelling fans behind the goal. It was only delaying the seemingly inevitable though, as on the quarter hour Walsall were rewarded for their hard work with a fine goal. Julian Gray received the ball just inside the area from a bit of a scramble, but in one single movement produced a moment of sublime skill bending the ball around everyone and just inside the far post to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

Ten minutes later a clearly shattered Corr made way for Logan, and for a further ten minutes City endured some torrid Walsall pressure. It was relieved somewhat when Friend and Logan combined to set Harley away in a rare City attack. His cross field ball found Tully on the right but his drive across the face of goal was cleared without too much concern.

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This seemed to pull City out of their shells, and they finally responded to manager Tisdale's calls for them to push up and not sit so deep thus inviting waves of Walsall attacks. With this in mind Harley again strode forward, this time laying the ball off to Sercombe. However he couldn't repeat last weekend's spectacular goal at Wycombe instead screwing wide a drive from distance with his wrong foot. Sercombe nearly made up for the miss with five minutes to go though, Harley's stinging drive being gathered by the keeper at the second attempt just as Sercombe looked to pounce on the loose ball.

The final action of a pulsating finish came appropriately with Harley bursting through the midfield after good work down the right from Duffy and Tully. Harley twisted and turned on the edge of the box looking for an opening on his favoured right foot, eventually chipping a neat ball towards the far post that landed just the wrong side of the post. And then after four minutes of stoppage time the ref eventually blew to signal City's climb up the table to 18th spot and extend their unbeaten run to five matches.

And what a time to embark on such a run, at this crucial time of the season. It's been two wins and three draws, and it could so easily have been more with a little bit of luck and application, but with two teams now between us and the relegation zone it would be churlish to be critical of the club's best run in the league since November.

As for the players, well despite a couple of iffy clearances Jones' handling was spot on, and in front of him the trio of Duffy, Taylor and Edwards soaked up all Walsall could throw at them. Speaking of which, despite the weird throwing action ofRichard Taundry for the visitors, it was meat and drink for Man of the Match Taylor who headed every single one to safety.

He also sent a few the way of Friend and Tully, who bombed up and down the flanks relentlessly. Combine that with the boundless energy of Dunne and Sercombe in midfield and the guile of Harley then you have a unit capable of both shoring up the defence or supporting the attack.

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Which itself performed admiarably with Stewart clever and probing and Corr willing. It was a big loss not to have the speed of Stansfield today, and with three red cards to his name this season it looked at times as though Corr was treading on eggshells, but he battled manfully, won a fair few headers at the back and the penalty up front.

So a good day all round in the end, especially with results elsewhere going for us too. The lads' confidence will be sky high after this, so will be looking forward to the Easter clashes with Colchester on Friday and Brentford on Monday with relish. As will all of us too, and with Leyton Orient the visitors the weekend after we've given ourselves the perfect platform to almost guarantee our survival in this division.

So let's see you, and a friend, back here at the Park on Friday, and in magnificent voice as you were today too. With City winning and the crowd in fine voice is there a better place to be anywhere in the world than the Park on a match day? Course there isn't, see you next week.

    Data provided by Press Association