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11:25 9th May 2011

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Exeter City 2

Paul Tisdale's Exeter City don't do boring finishes. Whether penalty shoot-outs, season saving late volleys, Wembley wins or pitch invasions at athletic stadiums there has never been a stale end to a campaign under the former Southampton man. We can now add 'Hillsborough madness' to that list - a last minute winner infront of 21,000 fans thanks to a stunning first career goal from our centre-back as our manager prepared to make his first Football League game for 13 years. It may not have had anything riding on it but it summed up everything about Tisdale's five seasons. It was a built performance as the manager so often talks about, a gutsy comeback, a sensational finale, some unbelievable celebrations and dollops of utter madness. The away end exploded into scenes usually associated with promotions and Play Offs after Troy picked up the ball on the half-way line with 89 minutes as City countered and just kept going, beating a man before firing a left-footed shot past Nicky Weaver. And as he ran back to the half-way line his manager brought himself on for the dying minutes to cap an utterly mad afternoon. It hadn't all been euphoric celebrations and end of season fun and games though, Jermaine Johnson had fired Wednesday into a 13th minute and City's defence had done extremely well to keep Gary Megson's men out before drawing level on 73 thanks to Dan Nardiello's smart finish. Then another memorable Exeter City season finale unfolded… Paul Tisdale, suited and booted when the game kicked off, made one change to the victorious Devon derby side - Injured David Noble being replaced by Bertie Cozic. The bench included youngsters with new contracts, (Tom Nichols and Chris Shephard) the manager and Rob Edwards, in a matchday squad for the final time. It was the home side who had most of the ball in the early exchanges and Artur made the first save of the match on eight minutes - getting a good hand to a curling right footed from Mark Reynolds. From the resulting corner Troy did well to head the ball out of danger as City weathered the storm. But on 13 minutes the Owls took the lead thanks to a lovely goal from Jermaine Johnson who ran at the City backline stepped inside and unleashed a rocket of a right shot that flew into the top corner. City looked to respond to the early set-back, Jamie Cureton fired an effort across goal and Dan Nardiello cut inside his marker on the left hand side but his low shot was deflected wide of the near post. Megson's men were trying their luck from distance on a regular basis during the first half and after hitting the jackpot with the opener they continued to fire them in from long range - Johnson's effort from 20 yards fizzed just past the post and on 35 minutes he teed up Reynolds who was denied by another smart Artur save. Steve Tully then made a vital touch to keep the ball away from Danny Batth and Richard Duffy made a huge goal-line clearance with his body to deny former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor on 39 minutes after Artur had saved well but diverted the ball into his path. So as the 1035 travelling fans prepared for the final 45 of the season they could consider themselves quite lucky to be just one goal down. And as the players returned on to the pitch they were joined by 17-year-old Tom Nichols who entered the fray for Bertie Cozic. City's number 37 has been with the club since the Under 11 age group and the striker and his family must be over the moon after he made his City bow at Hillsborough of all places. He has scored close to 30 goals this season, been a reserve regular and has been rewarded with a debut at the ground where Tisdale made his Premier League bow. His introduction meant City switched to three up front with Nichols on the right, Cureton in the centre and Nardiello on the left. The latter hit the post shortly after the break in front of the away fans. He failed to connect with an acrobatic effort but managed to make contact with the ball when on the floor and it trickled across goal and off the woodwork. The home side continued to try their luck from all sorts of angles while Nardiello's quest for the opener was proving fruitless - he was creating plenty of openings for himself but every time a defender would get a vital block in as he pulled the trigger. Cureton could only chip the ball into Weaver's hands before City's equaliser came thanks to Dan Nardiello. James Dunne advanced with the ball from midfield before slipping it through to the former Blackpool man who fired a low shot into the far corner from a tight angle. City continued to move up through the gears after the Welshman's equaliser, Cureton volleying wide after Ryan Harley's cross. Many around us pondered what City's next sub would be. Would Harley be withdrawn for a standing ovation on his final appearance? A double substitution of Tisdale and Edwards looked very unlikely with the manager still in his chinos and in fact Matt Taylor was sent on for Nardiello as the clock ticked down. A huge cheer then went up as the manager was spotted sneaking back to his seat in a City kit! He wasn't. Was he?! The players had no idea their manager was named in the match day squad while the fans were buzzing at the prospect of finally seeing their manager back in a City shirt. And as he waited to enter the fray something even more unlikely happened, Troy brought the ball out from the back and when Cureton's clever run drew a defender away he just kept going and going and going... A truly memorable moment to cap a certainly unforgettable campaign. And then our number 17 entered the fray for Nichols to a rousing reception and almost immediately played his only pass of the afternoon - a smart ball to Harley in midfield. It was very odd seeing Tisdale on the field amongst his troops, the manager taking up a position on the right of midfield with Cureton now the lone frontman. He was certainly needed during added time as City defended for their lives against all eleven Wednesday players - Weaver himself bombing into the box before suffering a nasty head injury during a collision with Taylor. After the final whistle was blown Tisdale led his exe-static players to applaud and bow to their delighted fans. There were final farewells to Rob and Ryan as City equalled their best ever finish - eighth in the third tier of English football.
    Data provided by Press Association