For Exeter City the 1-0 win over Newport was as sweet as they come and they are coming quite often at present. They stay top of League Two. For County, starting the game in second and unbeaten, the defeat was understandably frustrating after failing to make their domination of the first 35 minutes count. All it did in the end was add to Exeter’s satisfaction.
As Paul Tisdale, their manager, said: “Newport played really good attacking football and took it to us in the first half and what pleased me is that we had the resilience and strength to counter it. Yes, they had shots but they didn’t often get in on goal.” Newport’s Michael Flynn saw it differently. Pádraig Amond, newly signed from Hartlepool, wasted three chances – high, wide and straight at the keeper, Christy Pym. When he did nod in a long throw, the goal was disallowed for a foul on Pym, a decision Flynn initially called “disgusting” but downgraded to “massive” as he acknowledged: “I’m not going to moan too much because, if we’d taken our chances, we’d have won comfortably.”
Just before half-time, in Exeter’s first real threat, Ben White, a 19-year-old on loan from Brighton and outstanding in County’s defence, headed Jake Taylor’s shot off the line before the equally impressive Troy Brown did the same at the other end to deny Amond’s amends. It foreshadowed an exhilarating second half. Frank Nouble, fresh from Southend and a formidable presence up front, soon set up Robbie Willmott but his shot struck the house across St James Road between first floor and second.
Within five minutes Exeter scored. Reuben Reid, in terrier mode, got the better of Mickey Demetriou on the right byline and Lee Holmes met his pull-back with a clinical finish. Nouble, for once escaping the shackles of Brown and his fellow centre-back, Jordan Moore‑Taylor, struck the inside of a post from 30 yards, to which another Jordan, Tillson, responded by running 50 yards to meet another Reid feed, only to blast it over. He is son of the former Bristol Rovers defender Andy, now first-team coach at St James Park, and ultimately he probably won on points his midfield battle with Newport’s Joss Labadie, whose commitment to the County cause extends beyond his amber boots.
Reid’s menace continued and Holmes might have had a second when his header was deflected on to a post and into Joe Day’s hands. By the end Exeter did not need to feel too guilty about winning. Their black and white striped socks had shown their bull’s-eye worth.
Both clubs know that 41 games down the line the ifs and buts of this one will be forgotten. Last season Exeter were 24th on 19 November. On 28 May they lost in the play-off final. Newport assumed last place when Exeter released it and stayed there until promoting Flynn from their coaching ranks on 9 March, when the club were 11 points adrift. It was the second season running they had tried three managers. Seven wins in their last 12 matches saved them.
Judging by this start, Flynn could be the next Tisdale, now in his 12th season at Exeter. Flynn is County to the core and both clubs enjoy the benefit of being owned by their fans. Newport’s bought Amond. Exeter’s 31 Fund pays the wages of the player wearing the No31 shirt. Both clubs are hugely active in the community.
But on Saturday their value was wider still in clawing back some of the game’s decency after the obscene spectacle of the transfer window with its flaunting of foreigners’ chequebooks and flouncing of players, a stock market where the stock talks back. The same dealing goes on in the lower leagues but a sense of proportion – or a proportion of sense – remains.
Through the sale of Ollie Watkins to Brentford and David Wheeler to QPR, both strikers, and Ethan Ampadu, aged 16, to Chelsea and on the Wales bench later, Exeter have cleared all but £4m to replace one side stand and, with the help of Barnet, an end one from Underhill to protect their neighbours’ houses from visiting strikers. And still they found the only goal, with Watkins back to watch. This is how smaller clubs do business without losing touch with fans or former players.
• There was a certain irony in Kenny Jackett helping Rotherham United to their first away win in 27 matches on Sunday when they beat Portsmouth 1-0 at Fratton Park, where he is now in charge. He was the third of four managers who contributed to the Millers’ hapless run, though for only two of those games. Their previous away success on the road was 4-0 at Milton Keynes Dons in the Championship on 9 April, 2016. The manager then, first of four contributors, was Neil Warnock. And look where he is now, top of the Championship with Cardiff City.
• Once a goalscorer always a goalscorer: it may not be infallible but Charlie Wyke is doing his best to live up to it. After all, that is why Bradford City bought him off Carlisle United in January. On Saturday he scored his first hat-trick for them to go with two doubles in his 19 games for them last season. In 26 before his transfer he had a hat-trick (against Mansfield) and double for Carlisle in eight days.
• Then again one has to start somewhere. And Shaquille Coulthirst did so at Swindon on Saturday. Last season the 22-year-old former Tottenham Youth, got four goals for Peterborough in 22 games, two of them in the FA Cup against Chesham, then five in 20 for Mansfield on loan. Barnet signed him on a free in July and his first four League matches produced no reward. The fifth produced a hat-trick in the 4-1 win at Swindon, the first a sweet curler into a corner to give any striker confidence. He may be one to watch.
• Have Charlton Athletic turned a corner? Karl Robinson, their manager, admitted after their 4-3 win at Boundary Park that the striker he tried and failed to sign on transfer deadline day was Preston’s Eoin Doyle, who preferred a local loan move to Oldham Athletic and duly scored. But then so did the striker he picked up instead, Joe Dodoo from Rangers, on a last-minute, five-month loan. And Charlton won the battle of the Athletics without Josh Magennis, Northern Ireland’s two-goal hero the night before against San Marino. Robinson engaged well with the fans at MK Dons. At this rate he will be drawing Charlton’s back to The Valley.
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