It’s not often I feel sympathy for the opposition. Usually they have either been dog meat for the forward march of the mighty Addicks or they have somehow robbed us of victory. But today was as close as it comes. The TV replays will presumably shed some light on whether their effort went over the line. From where I was sitting there was no question the whole ball was over. And a team which came to The Valley with no great expectations then saw the injury compounded by a chance remark to the linesman resulting in a red card. After that they conducted themselves admirably, continuing to make a game of it until our second removed any lingering doubts. Exeter, I think you were robbed. The developments meant it was hard to assess our performance as we did enough, without ever producing the compelling football of the first 30 minutes of Monday night. After two home draws the win was all-important, so no real judgements can be made. But we’ll try anyway.
We started sluggishly, in direct contrast to Monday night. Pass and move is all about how quickly you do it, and if you do it slowly you don’t create the space. My impression watching the first 15 minutes was that we thought we could win the game without exerting ourselves unduly. We weren’t playing badly as such, but not with a real edge. In retrospect that applied for the full game. The movement off the ball wasn’t crisp, so we kept possession but didn’t stretch them before the major incident of the game.
They had the ball out wide, the cross was half-blocked but fell to their forward, who managed to get the shot away. After that it all happened in slow motion. The ball squeezed past Hamer and my impression was that he wasn’t going to get back in time. It was so slow that I started to think that going behind might buck us up. But the North Stand and East Stand did exactly the right thing by staying completely quiet – and the linesman did his duty and must have seen a sliver of the ball that hadn’t gone over the line. He had a better angle than me. The replays might decide. I thought at the time it was a clear goal. When their guy continued to berate the linesman and a certain M. Webb called over the ref I jokingly said ‘come on, give us a laugh, make it red’. He did. 20 minutes gone and we’re against 10 men and have got out of jail.
After that it was really a question of whether we could score against a side not surprisingly keeping the remaining 10 behind the ball. Solly crashed one against the bar (now here was a real case for goalline technology) but in general it was mildly frustrating until just before the break when Wright-Phillips was put into the sort of position to do what he does best. No messing about, he scored.
At the start of the second half I thought it we just put in the effort in the first 10 minutes and get another the game was done and dusted and we could relax. It didn’t really happen. We did have chances here and there, with BWP sending in shots that went just past the posts, but the surprise was that Exeter kept their discipline and threatened once or twice. The second goal didn’t come until the 81st minute, when the excellent Solly fed Wright-Phillips and he pulled it back for the inrushing Stephens to sweep it home. Game over.
I’m not really sure how to assess the game overall. We needed a home win after the two draws and there’s nothing wrong winning while playing within yourselves. But it wasn’t entirely convincing. Given the circumstances, another early in the second half and we could easily have gone on to win by 4 or 5. Nothing wrong with improving the goal difference (one more and we’d be top tonight). Equally, the circumstances demanded a win and we didn’t care too much how it came. We didn’t cause the linesman’s decision, or the ref’s. Taking the three points was fine, but the fact is we didn’t play at anything like the same level as the first 20 minutes of Monday night. The fact that we didn’t before the major incident suggests that we approached the game in a different mindset and that no judgements about our prospects going forward can be made.
No matter, I’ve seldom been upset after a home win. Preston and I hope the second string on Tuesday night and then back to business. No player ratings for today as it doesn’t really seem fair in the circumstances; I don't really know how to judge performances when the game is handed to you on a plate and when the win was all that was required. Just enough to say that Solly deserves the mention in dispatches for an outstanding display.