As I Seen It - Exeter

ALREET witnessed an excellent away win

League 2 - at St. James' Park - Exeter City 0  POOLS 3

It's just before seven on Saturday morning and it's 'thistledown' as I drove up to my local station. Looking down the line towards London though, the inky clouds overhead had been replaced by a bright horizon so the weather looked set to improve. The journey down to Exeter was a pleasant, sunny trip but as we entered the latter part of the journey, the clouds reappeared and I wasn't sure if the dark sky was due to heavy rain or just a thick mist.

The reason for my trepidation (and I may have relayed this story before) was that I went down to see Pools at Exeter several years ago and as I was waiting for the train to stop, I picked up a paper that had been dropped on a seat and opening it at the footie page, discovered that Exeter v Hartlepool had been postponed! What to do? So I decided that as it was just before Christmas, I would spend the day doing some Christmas shopping. It's a fair hike from the station to the High Street but after a few hours of fruitless mooching round the shops, I decided that I had had enough and wandered back downhill to the station, stopping off to buy a pasty to console myself for my endeavours. That is no doubt the most expensive pasty I have ever bought!

Having decided to have a coffee and a bite before I left the station, the dark sky had been replaced by something more cheerful, and by kick-off it was a bright, sunny afternoon. I opted to sit in the seats for a change and noticed that there were three suited chaps standing by the touchline in front of me. If I may be permitted to indulge in a spot of name-dropping, I realized that one of them was Steve Perryman, their Director of Football. Now his brother Ted was in my class at school, then there was another brother, Bill, and finally Steve, who shared a class with one of my sisters. They all supported QPR as did a lot of my schoolmates and I often went there with them for a laugh.

Steve obviously didn't have a clue who I was until I said that I had last spoken to him when we were at school but he instantly remembered my name and we shared a few pleasantries together. Then another bloke turned up saying that he had been trying to have a word with Steve for fifty years. It was like waiting for a bus for yonks and two turn up together. Apparently he had captained a team that played against Steve who was captaining Ealing South Schoolboys at the time. Anyway, after a few more words with Steve, he scuttled off to his seat and I returned to mine. Almost immediately, I heard "Hello Alan" and I was joined by Bill, the chap from Somerset who I had previously met a few weeks ago at the Torquay match. Two pleasant surprises in one day!

So to the game itself and within seconds, the day could have been even brighter as James latched on to a ball that a defender failed to clear but unfortunately pulled his shot wide of the upright. Ironically, this was the complete opposite of the Torquay match where we should have been one down straight from the kick-off. The miss, however, did not prove costly as Compton, this time on the left, sent in a sublimely caressed ball with the outside of his left boot, which was nodded home by Baldwin, who again seemed to be all over the pitch. Compton and Poole both had shots saved while James once again dragged his shot wide of the post when put through.

As it happened, we were looking very solid in defence, but one nil is always a dodgy score line. Burgess was having another superb game (have I mentioned him before?), coasting his way through the match but putting in powerful tackles and headers when necessary. However, after one rare piece of sloppy defending by Pools, he gave away a free kick on the edge of the penalty area which I thought, from my position almost in line, was inside the box.

For a short spell in the second half Pools seemed to start defending deeper; I don't know whether this was deliberate or whether they just relaxed as City didn't appear to be applying any (extra) pressure or even looking dangerous. This phase soon passed and they regained the snap and tempo they previously had and went back on the attack. Pools got the breathing space they clearly deserved when James latched on to another incisive long ball from Compton, took a neat touch and deftly lobbed it over the advancing keeper who came rushing out and flattened him in the process. Again from my in line position and with a defender haring back, the ball seemed to take an age to drop and then bounce below the bar.

We were home and dry shortly afterwards when a ball from the left ended up at the feet of Compton on the opposite side of the penalty area and showing that he also has a right foot, hammered it back across goal and into the far corner. We then saw the game out but not before Poole made a jinking run through their defence but could not get any power behind his shot.

This, allied to the earlier missed chances, meant that we could have finished with a five or six goal haul mirroring the Mansfield match. We were as impressive in this match as we had been the week before, and once more it was difficult to single anyone out for Man of the Match, but I suppose it would go to Compton for his goal and the two beautifully flighted passes which led to the other pair.

In addition, I would give a special mention to two players who most would have binned way back - Monkey and Aussie who have been rejuvenated and are playing a genuine part in the overall structure of Pools' set up. To think that we couldn't buy a goal a few weeks back and I know a goal is a goal but we haven't half scored some crackers recently.

The form we have shown at Mansfield and Exeter has been outstanding and a neutral watching us would surely have thought that we were romping away at the top of the table. The players are really up for it, showing a great team spirit, harrying, covering, tackling back and attacking in numbers. We are playing at a great tempo and stringing passes together all over the pitch. Burgess and Baldwin, well, what can one say? They are ably supported by Aussie and Duckworth who are also providing great support further up the line."we could have finished with a five or six goal haul"

Duckworth had one spirited run which took him past a couple of defenders and into the box but he just couldn't manage to get his shot in. Walton and Dolan provided a solid platform in front of the back line, also offering support and linking up with the attack. Monkey wins loads of headers and is working well with the others up front. Compton is blessed with a sweet left foot, finds space, has pace and good control, is not afraid to take men on and adding in his goals, is the complete wide man. Poole is linking up well with the others and providing some telling passes but probably not netting as many as he should. James is a real nuisance to big defenders and if only he could find a spot more composure when in on the keeper, we would have our elusive twenty plus goal a season striker. Given time, one can only hope.

So what of Exeter? Well, they started quite brightly across the middle of the park and I thought they might prove a tough test but we quickly got our game going and they hardly troubled us all afternoon. Their makeshift "star" striker, Scot Bennett, with four goals in four games was made to look exactly what he is, a defender, and from memory, I believe he only managed one powder puff header which Flinders just stood and nonchalantly caught above his head.

I arrived back at the station with half an hour to spare before my train was due. Ambling about in the foyer, I saw a familiar face queuing up for a ticket. Wearing a smart grey overcoat with a large bag over his shoulder, I thought I would pinch a few words to pass the time.  It was none other than Mr Walton. I wondered if he was travelling back to Plymouth for the weekend but he said that he was going up to London to see his little girl. I complimented the team on their recent revival and said that they had been so impressive in their last couple of games. I expected him to say that it was down to a change in personnel or tactics, or something along those lines, but he surprised me slightly by replying that "It had taken them a few games to realize that you needed to toughen up in League Two". While this was no doubt true, it struck me that our recent change in fortunes was largely due to the fact that we are now keeping the ball on the deck and playing some great passing football as a result. There is a tangible self-belief in the system and it's working brilliantly. Whatever, he came across as a polite and pleasant lad.