The 2019/20 season marks the 30th anniversary of Exeter City FC winning what remains the club’s only divisional title in the 99 years since the club were elected to the Football League.
To celebrate the anniversary, SIMON CARTER - a former sports journalist at the Express & Echo and author of a 2016 book on his life following the Grecians - will be taking us all back to 1989/90 in every home programme this season. Here, he looks at one of the trickiest periods of the campaign.
CAMBRIDGE 3 ECFC 2
FEBRUARY 10, 1990
For the second time this season, City lost away after leading 2-0.
Scunthorpe in September had been the first time, but if Terry Cooper thought that was an isolated case he was proved sadly wrong at The Abbey Stadium.
Clive Whitehead headed City in front and then won the penalty from which Darran Rowbotham tucked away his 27th goal of the season.
But a second half collapse saw the hosts hit back through a Micky Cheetham double and one from Lee Philpott.
Cooper moaned: ‘We’re too soft. They put us under pressure and we couldn’t handle it. We’ve got no chance of promotion, if we can’t defend a two-goal lead.’
Loan signing Clive Stafford - brought in from Colchester United - made an ‘unremarkable’ debut at left back according to the Express & Echo.
This was City’s 13th away league game of what was to become a historic campaign, but their eighth loss. Such was the margin between success and failure, though, that all eight defeats were by a single goal margin.
As for Cambridge, this win took them up to 11th. But they ended up in the play-offs thanks to a run of seven wins from their last nine games. And John Beck’s infamous long ball outfit went on to accompany City up via the play-offs.
City: Miller, Hiley, Benjamin, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham (Batty, 88), Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Stafford.
CARLISLE 1 ECFC 0
FEBRUARY 13, 1990
A third successive league defeat for the visitors saw leaders Carlisle stretch their advantage over City to five points - having played two games more.
The only goal came four minutes into the second half when Kevin Miller could only paw away a Paul Proudlock shot and Tony Shepherd swept in the loose ball.
City’s best chance came in the last minute when Darran Rowbotham headed a golden chance over the bar.
Not much to get excited about, therefore, for any Grecians fans making the long midweek trek to Cumbria and - possibly - taking their partner along too for a pre-Valentine’s Day ‘date night’ with a difference...
The league table was looking fairly good for Carlisle after this win, but astonishingly they then lost their next six league games - scoring just once in the process - to plunge to eighth. And that after just six defeats in their first 28 games!
Three more losses in their last four matches saw them miss out on the play-offs - Cambridge taking the final place instead.
City: Miller, Hiley, Benjamin, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville (Batty, 75), Stafford (Rogers, 75).
ECFC 2 MAIDSTONE 0
FEBRUARY 17, 1990
In rainswept conditions, City returned to winning ways against play-off chasing Maidstone in the fourth game between the teams this season.
Darran Rowbotham’s 28th goal of the term and a deflected Paul Batty shot 12 minutes from time sealed the points against a Stones side who City had beaten in an FA Cup second round replay...
‘I didn’t care how we won in difficult conditions,’ said Cooper. ‘The important thing was to get back on the trail of picking up points. I was delighted with the way they rolled up their sleeves and played some smashing football at times.’
Of 17-year-old right-back Tony Frankland, Cooper said: ‘If I don’t sell him for half a million I’ll eat my hat. You have to remember he’s only a baby but he’s going to be a smashing player.’
Rowbotham settled any nerves on the terraces by netting from close range shortly before the hour mark, with substitute Batty’s 20-yarder hitting Les Berry and wrong-footing keeper Mark Beeney.
At the back, City successfully shackled Stones strikers Steve Butler and Mark Gall, who between them had netted 27 times in the league - 14 and 13 respectively.
City: Miller, Hiley, Benjamin, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead (Batty, 73), Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Frankland.
WREXHAM 1 ECFC 1
FEBRUARY 24, 1990
Clive Whitehead was sent-off for the second time this season as City repeated their home result with Wrexham in north Wales.
The hosts were first reduced to 10 men when Sean Reck was dismissed for punching Whitehead during a touchline tussle.
Whitehead was flat out for several minutes, but on getting back to his feet was also shown a red card for violent conduct by referee Paul Danson. He had previously been dismissed during the defeat at Rochdale in October.
From the resultant free kick awarded to City, though, Jim McNichol headed an 84th minute leveller - cancelling out Nigel Beaumont’s 58th minute opener.
Cooper had relegated Darran Rowbotham to the subs’ bench as the top scorer was still groggy after dental work the previous day.
Paul Eshelby was handed his league debut, while Ben Rowe came on as a substitute - only his second league outing and his first since another sub appearance the previous September.
Wrexham were to prove one of only three sides City failed to beat in league action in 1989/90 - Carlisle and Stockport being the others.
City: Hiley, Harrower (Rowbotham, 45), McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Eshelby, Bailey, Batty, Neville (Rowe), Dryden.