Sunday, 27 May 2018

Jim's column 26.5.2018

What a remarkable night at Meadow Lane last week. The Sky Blues turned in one of their finest performances for many years to confound the experts and reach the League Two play-off final. For ten or so minutes in the second half things got a bit hairy but Lee Burge's fine save from Jon Stead steadied the ship and the team ran out worthy winners and could have scored several more goals. As it was 4-1 is the biggest away win in a League Two play-off tie.

The Notts County hoodoo was well and truly consigned to the dustbin as City won at Meadow Lane for the first time since a 3-0 victory at the start of the 1963-64 promotion campaign. Mark McNulty took his tally for the season to 28 in all games, equalling George Hudson's record in that same campaign. Since the Second World War only three players have scored more than McNulty:

Ray Straw 30 (1958-59)
George Lowrie 29 (1946-47)
Terry Bly 29 (1962-63)

So it's on to Wembley for the second time in just over a year to face Exeter City on Monday afternoon. Exeter lost in the final to Blackpool twelve months ago and on league form probably start as the favourites but we all know that anything can happen (and often does) at Wembley. The record crowd for a League Two final is 61,589 for the first at the new Wembley in 2007 between Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury. That record will not be broken as at the time of writing City have sold around 36,000 and Exeter 10,000.

The Sky Blues and Exeter are relative strangers these days; this season was the first time the clubs have been in the same division since 1958-59 when City won promotion out of the old Division Four at the first attempt. In 36 Football League games (all but this season in Division Three South) City have won 15 and lost 12 with nine draws but the Grecians have won only once in Coventry whilst City have won five at St James' Park. Exeter did however win an FA Cup tie at Highfield Road in 1955 (1-0) and a Division 3 South cup game in 1934 (1-0) but City prevailed in a Football League Trophy game at the Ricoh in 2014 (3-1).

The clubs did meet in the Southern League between 1910-14 and the Grecians generally had the upper hand. The first league meeting took place at St James' Park in December 1926 and the home side ran out 8-1 winners, a record defeat for City at the time. Four Exeter players scored a brace that day (Messrs Dent, Purcell, Blackmore and Compton) with Jimmy Heathcote netting a consolation for City.

This season's games were entertaining with the Sky Blues ending Exeter's eight-game unbeaten start to the season with a 2-0 home victory in September with an own-goal from Troy Brown and a late second from Devon Kelly-Evans. In the return in January the Grecians got their revenge when Ryan Harley's early goal was enough to win the game.

Next week is the final column of the season and my delayed stats review of the season will be ready for publication.

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