Exeter battle to Southend win
St. James Park, Exeter
Exeter City halted a run of four successive defeats with a vital 1-0 win at home to Southend.
Adam Stansfield`s sublime first half chip was enough for Paul Tisdale`s side to move five points clear of the League 1 relegation zone.
Exeter started the match relatively well, and Ryan Harley tested Southend keeper Stuart Midenhall early on from a free tick just outside the box. And the Grecians took the lead 17 minutes in when Tory Archibald-Henville`s flighted through ball released Stansfield. Midenhall came out to close Stansfield as he entered the right hand side of the box, but he lifted the ball over the shrimper`s keeper and crept in off the far post.
However, this certainly wasn`t vintage Exeter, and who could be surprised after a run of four successive defeats. On number of occasions Steve Tully was exposed on the City right hand side, because of a lack of a right midfielder in front of him. Before City had opened the scoring Scott Malone`s cross on the overlap should have been dispatched in the six yard box. And before the half was out, a break down the same side from the Essex outfit culminated in a squandered headed chance at the far post.
The majority of City`s openings were due to counter attacks. The Grecians are perfectly capable of admirable passing football but they have too often lacked a cutting edge. An inability to hit the net in the past three league games testifies to this. Nevertheless, it appeared City would have to counter attack in the second half as their visitors stepped up the pressure from the whistle. They rode out the opening fifteen minutes of the second half with a few scares, but their job was made a lot harder when Barry Corr was given his marching orders for an off the ball incident.
The Grecians were struggling to get out of their own half, but Stansfield was superb as he found the energy to chase every ball pumped upfield. On one occasion he chased a lost ball and momentarily appeared to snatch the ball from Midenhall before the United keeper recovered well.
City`s chances of holding out for victory were boosted when Jabo Ibehre was handed a straight red by referee Roger East after he clashed with Richard Duffy. City then had an immediate opportunity to secure victory but Steve Tully headed into the ground unmarked in the six yard box with the goal gaping.
There were still nervous moments for City, who had to continue to work hard to maintain their slender lead. But, Paul Jones - returning in goal after three months out - was excellent in handling some firm strikes as the game drew towards its conclusion. Stansfield had another chance to easy the nerves of the City faithful when he dispossessed a defender on the left hand side and approached the keeper one on one. However, Stansfield, not renowned for his composure in such a position, sent the ball wide of the far post. Five minutes were added on, but the Grecians did well to run down time by keeping the ball out of their own half.
Make no mistake, this was a very important win for Exeter City. It halts a run of three successive league defeats without scoring, and moves them onto 25 points and five points clear of the relegation zone, level with four other teams. A further four teams are within two points of City. Paul Tisdale`s men face a tough trip to Southampton on Boxing Day, and return to St. James Park two days later when they face travel sick Gillingham. This may appear a home banker with the Gills having the joint worst away record in the entire Football League with just a single point to show from eleven games. However, it is rarely that simple when it comes to Exeter City, and a scrappy win would suffice.