Nards wins it late to Paint the town RedPlymouth Argyle 1 Exeter City 2
Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Section quarter-final
When the fixture list came out during the summer of 2010, fans of both Plymouth and Exeter scoured the dates to find out when the Devon Derby would be. With the two sides having been in different divisions since the 2001/02 season, when Argyle did a seasonal double over Exeter, it was eight years since the teams had met.
Argyle had been very much the team to beat that season – the six points they took from the Grecians helped them to a whopping 102 points that saw them wrap up promotion from Division Three well in advance of the final weekend. It was the start of a run that saw the team reach the newly-rebranded Championship division in time for the 2004/05 season.
Exeter, on the other hand, dropped out of the Football League the following year – eventually sitting three divisions below Plymouth – and suffered much-publicised off-the-field problems. However the purchase of the club by its supporters and the arrival of Paul Tisdale breathed new life into the club, and consecutive promotions in 2008 and 2009 took City into the third tier for the first time since 1994.
Off-pitch problems of their own saw Argyle slip into League 1 for the 2010/11 season, meaning the Devon Derby was all set to be put on the docket for the first time in the best part of a decade. The teams were due to meet first at Home Park in December, and then again at St James Park in April.
City’s season didn’t get off to the brightest of starts, as they failed to win in the first three – though their first win of the campaign came away to Yeovil in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. It was the start of a bright run which had seen them climb to seventh in League 1 by the time they overcame Hereford at Edgar Street in the second round of the Trophy.
The Pilgrims, meanwhile, had also suffered a shaky start. Beating Southampton at St Mary’s on the opening day set them up for a false dawn, as they dropped steadily down the table. Having had a bye in the first round of the Trophy, they only needed to beat League 2 side Cheltenham to reach the last eight in the Southern Section.
So when the draw was made live on Soccer AM on October 9th, the two Devon rivals were paired together for a quarter-final clash, meaning their meeting was put forward a month. It also gave them four weeks for the tie to gather momentum.
Whether the looming derby tie proved a distraction is contentious, as the Grecians lost five of the six matches in all competitions between the draw and the date of the derby – hardly the ideal preparation for their first visit to Home Park in such a long time.
But when the game kicked off, the mental strength of City was evident as they came flying out of the blocks. Within two minutes of kick-off, Ryan Harley had stunned the home support with a perfectly-placed shot which beat Romain Larrieu.
The midfielder nearly grabbed a second for himself and City towards the end of the first half, only to be denied by a save from the Frenchman.
But the Plymouth supporters were buoyed early in the second half when the veteran Chris Clark used his experience to capitalise on a loose clearance and hit into the net from all of 40 yards.
The game remained remarkably open with seemingly neither team wanting the game to go the distance, with the prospect of extra-time and penalties imminent. Craig Noone nearly gave Plymouth a lead, before Richard Logan hit just wide for the Grecians.
But it was Daniel Nardiello that kept his cool to write himself into the folklore of the Devon Derby. Having replaced Jamie Cureton less than ten minutes earlier, the substitute danced through the Argyle rearguard after being played in by Logan and drilled home a winner in the dying moments.
It was far from a flash in the pan for City either, as victory on penalties over Bristol Rovers was enough to put the Grecians into the area final. Brentford proved a step too far, as Nardiello’s injury-time goal at St James Park was purely academic after Sam Saunders and Gary Alexander had given the Bees a lead following the first-leg draw at Griffin Park.
However it kick-started a superb season for the Grecians, as Paul Tisdale guided the side to the heady heights of eighth in League 1 – their highest league finish since the Second World War.