Superb Stansfield Finish Gives Exeter Vital Win
Exeter`s prospects of achieving a second away victory of the season looked in doubt when Michael Rose equalised for County nine minutes from time. However, Adam Stansfield scored a fabulous goal on the stroke of the 90 minutes, and Richard Logan made the points safe with virtually the last kick of the game. Ryan Harley had given the Grecians a first half lead with a superb long range free kick.
In wet conditions, Exeter started the brighter. Within the first five minutes, Stuart Fleetwood had a clear headed chance in which he failed to generate sufficient power to beat the Stockport keeper. The Grecians, who fielded the same starting eleven from last weekend, continued to look penetrative in the final third. Meanwhile, the home side struggled to make an impact, and were more than content to play on the break. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why County have such a shocking record at Edgeley Park this season. You just can`t afford to sit back and soak up the pressure against the majority of teams in League 1. Exeter City are no exception, and with confidence on the rise, Ryan Harley was at the heart of some sublime short triangular passing.
The game went into somewhat of a lull between the fifteen minute and half hour mark, and County finally started to find their feet. However, they still failed to test Andy Marriott in the Grecians goal. Then, five minutes before half time, Exeter won a free kick slightly to the left hand side but more than thirty yards out. Too far out one thought, even for the masterful Ryan Harley who so wonderfully scored at Colchester the week before. But think again. Rather than delivering a speculative effort, playing off the slippery surface and looking for the scraps, the flame haired playmaker struck a beautiful ball towards goal, which curled away from the helpless Owain Fon Williams and into the left hand corner.
City were deservedly ahead, but with five minutes to go until half time, Stockport suddenly sprung into action. And County had a golden opportunity to equalise when Peter Thompson broke through suspiciously offside. He had enough time to put the kettle on, but chose to strike early as he entered the box. His shot was well struck, but Marriott was equal to it down low down to his left hand side. City needed the half time whistle, and there was much relief from the City faithful when it arrived.
City fashioned an early chance in the second period. Barry Corr broke free down the right and released Fleetwood, but his chip narrowly sailed over the bar. However, Stockport soon started to show they were the home side, and created a few half chances themselves. Despite the element of pressure that they provided, it was hardly sustained, and it was clear that County were a team languishing towards the foot of the table.
However, Exeter manager Paul Tisdale chose to consolidate his side`s slender lead by first taking off Barry Corr for Adam Stansfield, and then replacing Fleetwood with Troy Archibald-Henville. This heralded a change of formation with Henville playing between the defence and midfield. City aren`t the best at defending leads (who is?), and the pressure started to tell as County galvanised themselves. And with just under ten minutes remaining the home side won a free-kick in near enough the same spot as Harley had scored from in the first half. Of course lightning never strikes twice. But it did on this occasion. Michael Rose struck the ball with his left foot, and the ball looped over Marriott and into the top right hand corner. It was a superbly struck free-kick.
The Stockport faithful sensed a (undeserved) winning goal for their side. The noise levels more than quadruped and they should have had a second goal to celebrate. However, Michael Raynes wasted a glorious chance when he headed over from inside the six yard box.
Tisdale replaced the excellent Marcus Stewart with undisputed fans favourite Richard Logan. And with the ninety minutes drawing to a close, Harley fed Adam Stansfield, who eagerly attempted to reach the ball in between two defenders. He managed it as well and sensed an opening at goal. The energetic frontman had little time to think, and instinctively unleashed a left foot shot into the bottom left corner from fifteen yards. It was a superb goal. From the inch perfect pass from Harley to Stansfield`s finish with his weaker foot, it was a goal that reeked quality of a higher level. The loyal band of City fans were sent into raptures. The City travelling support was high on numbers and created an excellent atmosphere throughout the game. The winning goal was the least they deserved.
With seconds left on the clock a long ball found its way through to Stansfield. He was pulled down by a desperate County defender, but picked himself up and had the composure to square the ball to fellow substitute Richard Logan, who smashed into the empty net. City had won away from home for the first time since they defeated Carlisle in August, but this time it was thoroughly deserved.
Stockport remain in deep trouble in the relegation zone after their sixth home defeat of the season. In contrast, City are gaining confidence by the week as they begin to come to terms with the rigours of League 1 football. Who`s to say City`s current form won`t continue with Tisdale`s superb track record in the second half of a season. After the encouraging performances of the last two away games, it seems Tisdale has finally found the right formula. Talk of the play-offs is perhaps far fetched, but it would be a surprise if City were dragged into a meaningful relegation scrap from here. Mid table obscurity here we come. And who can argue with thatů.