Injury-hit City fight back for a pointExeter City 1 Plymouth Argyle 1
St James’ Park
Endsleigh League Division Three
23rd March 1996
Going into this derby clash, the egos of a couple of the Pilgrims’ squad had earned a rightful boost, as Mick Heathcote and Paul Williams had just been elected by their fellow professionals into the defensive ranks of the PFA Division Three Team of the Year.
However the Grecians’ rearguard was nothing to be sniffed at either – or at least it proved when derby day came around. Peter Fox, goalkeeper and manager for the Grecians, was particularly inspired on this particular afternoon when it came to holding Argyle at bay and putting a spanner in the works of their promotion hopes.
In the first meeting that season between the clubs, Ian Baird’s brace on New Year’s Day for Plymouth had been equalled at Home Park by goals from Paul Buckle and Mark Came, with City admittedly riding their luck.
However the Pilgrims would have gone in feeling confident of taking all three points back with them down the A38. Lying third in the table at the start of the day ahead at the head of a tightly-contested pack of clubs, and with Exeter’s physio table being busier than usual, few people gave City a fighting chance.
The injury crisis that plagued the Grecians was so bad that Adrian Foster – drafted in on loan from Gillingham – only met his Exeter teammates for the first time in the St James’ Park dressing room before kick-off.
And the prophecy looked as though it was being fulfilled when the visitors took the lead after just nine minutes when Gary Clayton struck from outside the box. The midfielder latched onto a pass before bending an effort which caught out Fox, unsighted in City’s goal.
However Exeter were back in the match soon after when they finally unpinned themselves from defence. Winger Mark Gavin hit a testing cross into the box which Mark Patterson couldn’t deal with well enough. When Mark Cooper put the ball back into the danger area, Plymouth defender Richard Logan (not that one!) could only divert the ball beyond Steve Cherry and into his own net.
With a somewhat fortuitous leveller, City were content on holding off the siege in the second half as the St James’ Park turf was becoming shredded. With Noel Blake and Mark Came playing centre-half, the Pilgrims just couldn’t find a route to goal and failed to find the net again in the second period.
City even almost grabbed the unlikeliest of winners in the dying throes, when Came went forward to meet with a header, but the ball fizzed narrowly over the crossbar. A goal apiece was the way it ended.
The impediment to Argyle’s promotion push was only temporary – a fourth-place finish was enough for the Pilgrims to finish in the play-off positions, and after defeating Colchester over two legs, a trip for Wembley followed for Neil Warnock’s men. They defeated Darlington thanks to Ronnie Mauge’s goal, but their stay in Division Two was a short one as they were relegated the following season.