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00:40 4th January 2011

Exeter City 1 Brighton and Hove Albion

So on a bitterly cold and miserable day, City and Brighton serve up a cracker of a game to warm the hearts of a whopping 6352 supporters - including an equally impressive 800+ travelling fans - that the visitors narrowly edged 2-1. City lined up: Paul Jones; Billy Jones, Taylor, Duffy; Golbourne, Harley, Noble, Sercombe, Tully; Cureton, Logan.
The game kicked off with City keen to get at their lofty opponents right from the start, but as is often the case despite dominating the opening exchanges it was the visitors who came closest to scoring first when Matt Taylor missed a challenge on the dangerous Glenn Murray allowing him unimpeded progress on the City goal. However Jones remained alert plunging low to his left to save well from Murray's shot from a tight angle.
In the tenth minute City's bright start was rewarded when Golbourne played the most delicious crossfield ball to Logan lurking on the corner of the box who in turn rolled the ball to Cureton two yards to his left. In a single swift movement Cureton spotted Ankergren fractionally off his line so let fly with an audacious chip from 20 yards that the desperately back pedalling keeper just about managed to tip over the bar for a corner. The corner wasn't cleared properly and was knocked back in to Logan who turned superbly to fire low into the corner from about six yards out to make it 1-0 to City.
On the quarter hour a booming clearance from Jones found Logan high up the field who played a neat one-two with Cureton before chancing his arm from distance, but his effort lacked the pace to cause the keeper any real trouble. What did cause him trouble was City's next move five minutes later. After a passing spell involving most of the team in a huge dollop of possession, Noble played the ball forward to Logan who once again laid the ball off for strike partner Cureton to let fly with a low drive that the keeper struggled to scramble round the post.
It was far from one way traffic though with Brighton looking good value for their top of the table status and, like City, keen to pass the ball around in nippy, zippy fashion probing for an opening. It nearly came in the 28th minute when a lazy looking cross was swung in from the left where former City loanee Craig Noone rose unmarked to glance a header towards the bottom corner that Jones did well to tip round the post for a corner. A minute later Jones was again called upon to push the ball round the post for a corner after a superb tackle from namesake Billy prevented a Brighton striker a clear sight on goal as he shaped to shoot.
But City held firm and were decent value for their half time lead with neither side really troubling their opposition keeper for the remainder of the half.
At the start of the second half City made their first substitution restarting with Archibald-Henville in place of captain Matt Taylor, and within 30 seconds Noble had a long range effort that whizzed high onto the Big Bank as City immediately went on the attack. Two minutes later a corner was cleared only as far as Sercombe 25 yards out, but alas he couldn't reproduce his superb strike from a similar distance against Sheffield Wednesday in City's last home match and the keeper had an easy collect.
In the tenth minute sharp thinking by Tully saw him take a very quick throw to Cureton who flicked the ball on to Logan. however his good looking header glanced just over the bar. Five minutes later Duffy's cross field ball had Golbourne scampering down the left where he let fly with a wicked shot that took a deflection for a corner that was cleared only as far as Noble. Rather than shoot himself he elected to play the ball to Sercombe, but his curling strike narrowly missed the angle of post and bar with the keeper little more than an interested spectator.
Brighton broke themselves with Sercombe ending the move intercepting the ball just outside his own penalty area, however keen to surge forward on a break of his own he couldn't get through a gaggle of defenders and found himself mugged deep in his own half. Immediately the ball was fed to Ashley Barnes on the left who whipped in a cross to Murray at the far post who rose highest to nod past Jones and level the scores at 1-1.
Sercombe, in combination with Harley, then stole the ball himself before sending Cureton scurrying forward who then squared for Harley who saw his long range piledriver well saved. In the 25th minute again Sercombe had an effort from range and again it curled harmlessly past the angle of post and bar.
A couple of minutes later Cureton made way for Nardiello and for the next ten minutes or so anything either midfield tried to create was easily snuffed out by the defences. Except for a corner in the 40th minute that saw the mother of all scrambles with what seemed like all of the outfield players either having a swing at it to score or a swing at it to clear! It was cleared though, but no further than Harley just inside the 'D' who smashed the ball goalwards only to turn in disbelief as it crashed onto the cross bar before being hooked away to safety.
Tully then forced the ball forward to Sercombe who turned and fired across the face of goal in front of everyone, then as the board went up for four minutes stoppage time Elliot Bennett broke down the right before drilling a low cross to the far post where former Plymouth striker Ashley Barnes came storming into the box to curl a crisp drive low past Jones across goal into the opposite corner to steal all three points for Brighton when a draw looked on the cards.
Which was harsh for City. It was a terrific game to watch with both sides playing the ball about sweetly and retaining the ball for huge chunks of time, and although neither side really deserved to lose it was hard to say that either side deserved all three points. But such is life. Brighton showed why their comfortably top of the division - they match their skill with a relentless work rate and strong physical presence - but today City matched them in all departments which bodes well for not only survival in this division, but maybe more in future.
At the back Paul Jones had a fine game. One shank aside his kicking was pretty flawless and his handling assured. Not much he could have done about either goal really, and, with the rest of the defence in mind, sometimes you just have to say that they were decent efforts by the opposition. Speaking of the defence, both Billy Jones and Duffy had very solid games, and if Duffy continues in this vein for the remainder of the season he's surely an almost shoe-in for player of the season.
In the middle Noble had one of his better games too with strong tackles and accurate, probing passing creating room for Harley do his thing. Sercombe looked good too, and worked as hard as he's ever done providing boundless energy in the middle of the park. Out wide Golbourne and Tully continued to bomb up and down providing outlets for both the midfield and defence.
Up front Logan had a battle with the giant Gordon Greer, but with the ball at his feet looked to bring others in constantly. Fellow striker Cureton looks like scoring every time he has the ball, and it's nice to see a City forward not afraid to have a go, something we've been missing somewhat since the days of Sean Devine - Cureton is surely fast turning out to be the signing of the season.
So we can look back on the game with plenty of positives. We might have got tonked at Southampton on New Year's Day, but given recent games that seems to be something of a blip. We're holding our own twice as close to promotion as relegation as we start the second half of the season, so we can look forward to that second half with confidence starting with the visit of MK Dons next Saturday before our two trips to Brentford - once in the league, once in the JPT area final before strugglers Walsall visit at the end of the month.
    Data provided by Press Association