The game: Exeter City v. Morecambe.
The ground: St James Park.
The conditions: absolutely bloody miserable.
It’s jolly tiring, this whole sport writing lark. Everyone needs a break every now and then. After months and months of lower-league football, I decided to take my leave from it all; a little staycation by the seaside was required, so I leapt on a train and adventured to the distant city of Exeter.
I made an itinerary on my way there, planning out my holiday from the beautiful game with pleasure. I could visit the grand medieval cathedral. I could enjoy a half pint of Abbott Ale in The Ship Inn, a Tudor public house with a prestigious nautical history. I could even attend a life class at the renowned Exeter University, indulging my artistic talents at only the 154th-ranked higher education facility in the world.
Inevitably, come three o’ clock on Saturday, I had done none of those things. Rather, I found myself plodding away in the pouring rain, en route to Exeter City’s St James Park for the home side’s match up with Morecambe. The football had called to me, and I had answered. Goodbye cathedral. Goodbye historical half pint. Goodbye life class.
Pushing through the turnstiles and finding myself a spot on the ‘Big Bank’ – an impressive terrace indeed – I readied myself for some mid-table League Two fare. The resident ‘Grecians’ had an outside chance of a sought-after play-off spot coming into the game, while the visiting ‘Shrimps’ would be desperate for three points after a three-match winless run; there may not have been automatic promotion or relegation at stake, yet this would still be a hard-fought fixture.
Exeter started brightly, good early play seeing midfielder Tom McCready curling a shot straight at Morecambe keeper Andreas Arestidou; not long afterwards, Grecians’ wide man Lee Holmes paced up the left flank and rocketed a low cross through the box – nobody could get a touch on it. To encouraged cries of ‘We are Ex-eter!’ the home side pressed Morecambe from all sides. In the twelfth minute, after the Shrimps’ Aaron Wildig had been dispossessed in the midfield, McCready charged up the middle of the park before lashing a shot just wide of the upright. It felt like the home pressure might soon pay off.
In the fifteenth, Exeter forward Tom Nichols won a corner; the delivery fell straight to Christian Ribeiro, but the defender could only nod his free header over the crossbar. This miss would straightaway prove costly. Having been on the back foot so far, Morecambe suddenly worked a great move and a great goal. Latching on to an accurate goal kick, Wildig charged up the left before squaring the ball for Andrew Fleming on the edge of the box; Fleming then slipped overlapping full back Aaron McGowan through, watching on as his teammate placed the ball past home keeper James Hamon. Goal.
After some slightly hot-headed celebrations in front of the home fans – the atmosphere from here on out was a wrathful one – Morecambe’s players took advantage of their surprise lead. Defender Ryan Edwards had two chances to double their advantage from set pieces, heading inches wide on both occasions. Jamie Devitt then fired narrowly over from long distance. The Grecians were living dangerously.
At the other end, the home side were now struggling to create clear-cut chances; sterile possession made little impact on the resolute Morecambe back line. In the thirty-seventh minute, the Grecians did have a penalty shout after Nichols went down under pressure from Alex Kenyon; there wasn’t much in this and referee Michael Bull waved play on, much to the rage of the St James Park faithful.
Nichols had one more shot before the break, a misplaced Shrimps’ pass giving him the opportunity to shoot low across the box – and wide. Bull then brought the first half to a close, berated off the pitch by a chorus of boos. I went off to get some wasabi peas, before coming back with an unidentifiable meat pasty.
Exeter needed to recapture their initial verve after the restart and – whatever Paul Tisdale said to them at half time – they gradually did so. In the first few minutes of the second period, Ribeiro and McCready both made snappy forays forward after classy passing – their eventual efforts were easy for Arestidou, but the home threat was evident once more. Devitt then had Morecambe’s only real chance of the half, receiving a neat pass from Fleming on the right before setting himself and firing a whisker wide of Hamon’s far post. This scare only spurred the Grecians on.
In the fifty-sixth minute, Exeter substitute Alex Nicholls made a storming run down the right before turning Morecambe’s Mark Hughes on the edge of the box and curling a sumptuous effort just over. Ten minutes later, after a long and unbroken spell encamped around the Shrimps’ area, the home side worked another good opening; Tom Nichols jinked past two defenders before smashing a low shot toward the bottom right – this was just cleared by a mass of Morecambe bodies.
In the seventieth, Exeter had another good opportunity. Nichols made yet another strong run up the left before dinking in a cross for substitute David Wheeler, who looped his glancing header a fraction too high. One further spell of pressure, and the Grecians finally had the ball in the back of the net. A tidy Holmes free kick was headed onto the bar by striker Graham Cummins; Wheeler nipped in to nod home the rebound from a couple of yards, the only problem being that he was marginally offside.
The fury on the Big Bank may now have been at a volcanic level, yet the stand was about to erupt into pure delight. At last, in the eightieth minute, Exeter equalised. Tom Nichols put the cross in. Alex Nicholls controlled it, completely unmarked. Turning on his heel, he steered his shot past the onrushing Arestidou. The net rippled. Pasty crusts rained down. Joy.
The Grecians went for the win in the last ten, Ryan Harley’s long shot from twenty yards almost skimming the bar before Nichols’ umpteenth weighted cross gave Cummins the chance to head wide. Some late Morecambe long balls challenged the home defence, but Exeter had all the possession. There was still time for late drama, the excellent Nichols receiving a straight red for an off-the-ball incident that I didn’t really see. Luckily for him, it didn’t cost the home side; a few minutes more, and things ended all square.
Exeter had played the more positive football, while Morecambe had won a shrewd point away from home; considered in isolation, there were obvious positives for both sides to take away from the match. However, for the Grecians, this draw probably signalled the end to hopes of a realistic play-off push. Time for an extended club holiday. Time to think about next season.
Result: Exeter City 1 Morecambe 1.
My MoM: Tom Nichols (Exeter City). Involved throughout, always dangerous, got an assist. Then got sent off. But still.
Best fans: the Grecians. Pasty rain!