Exeter City 3-2 Carlisle United
18th May 2017
I was moderately pissed off with Exeter City AFC, a few weeks back. I had perused the final round of League Two regular season fixtures, and felt fairly confident Exeter would not lose to visitors Carlisle United, and that Colchester United would henceforth edge the Cumbrians out of the play-offs with a win over woeful Yeovil. So a trip to Colchester had been pencilled-in for the following Sunday, to take in what would have been Colchester's first-leg play-off tie.
All appeared to be going swimmingly, until Exeter inexplicably allowed Carlisle to score twice in five second-half minutes to overturn a 2-1 deficit, and confirm the visitors in the last play-off slot. Leaving my Colchester plans in tatters. “Bastards”, I thought, although acknowledging there had been a severe case of Counting Chickens going on, on my part.
So Plan B was put into action: this long trip to Exeter to take in the second leg of City's own play-off-match (ironically against Carlisle, once more). Not that it was too much hassle, for what Exeter does have is an airport served directly from Edinburgh. And the match did ford me the opportunity to view (if not sit in, all those tickets were gone) the ninety-year old Grandstand, which was being demolished in the summer, as part of a major upgrade to St James Park.
Even before the goal-leaden bonkers last fifteen (ten, plus five added) minutes, the match had been a never less than engrossing encounter. Not that the quality had been terribly high, I have to say. There was too much at stake here, and hence, too many nerves at play, for that to be the case. Possession appeared to pass from team to team with metronomic regularity, whilst many promising-looking attacking moves were wasted due to some plain old bad decision-making by both sides.
None more so than that by Exeter substitute Joel Grant who, midway through the second-half, with his side clinging onto a slender one goal lead, set off on a mazy run into the visitors' box. He passed up at least two opportunities to set up colleague Ollie Watkins with a tap-in, before seeing his weak effort stopped by visiting 'keeper Mark Gillespie. An audible groan echoed around the ground with this failure, as the home fans realised that miss could well come back to haunt them. Quite how Watkins resisted the temptation to go over and give his profligate team-mate a good slapping, I do not know.
But instead WATKINS' response was to put his team 2-0 up on 80th minute (he had opened the scoring, what appeared aeons ago in the 10th minute), and that appeared to be that, as they say. Sections of The Big Bank certainly thought so, for they set up that “Que Sera Sera.........We're Going to Wembley“ chant. But a chap behind me, presumably having been burned by long years of watching The Grecians intoned: “No, not yet. Don't sing that yet!”
How prescient he was - for within seconds of the choir starting up, Jason KENNEDY had bundled one in for the visitors before, with a grim inevitability, Irishman John O'SULLIVAN headed a 90th minute equaliser.
Extra-time loomed which, as a neutral, I was rather looking forward to, I have to say. But of course, fate had one final card to play in the shape of Jack STACEY's unstoppable left-footer from outside the box - which booked the delighted Exeter fans a Wembley date with Blackpool.
Compelling, cruel and exhilarating in equal measures. This had been a rather special evening.
With an afternoon to spare beforehand, I had hoped to spend it exploring the underground passages which honeycomb the ground beneath Exeter city centre but, crushingly, when I pitched up I was faced with a note on the attraction door stating all the tours were fully booked for that day. In need of comfort, I crossed Paris Street to The Real Food Store opposite, where I had earlier noticed enticingly crusty loaves displayed in the window...and treated myself to a modest sized one.
And by Jings, it was guid (as we say up here).
I sat and shared it with pair of ragged robins in Northernhay Gardens. Although these birds were nowhere near as ragged-arsed as a number of the unsavouries and unfortunates who congregated in the park, lurking around corners and amongst the bushes. The park appeared a magnet for human driftwood and detritus of all shapes and forms; one such I came across was sprawled across the path in a chemically-induced stupor. A couple (Scots, I noted) had already called for an ambulance, and were concernedly watching over him in case he vomit and choke or whatever.
Nice place Exeter, but I rather think I would be a touch wary of visiting certain areas after dark should I ever return.